A Northern Virginia lawmaker wants to offer a tax credit to qualified newspaper publishers who hire local news reporters.
The news business continues to change, and a Northern Virginia lawmaker wants to offer financial incentives to save local journalists.
“We all know that a free and robust press is the cornerstone of any vibrant and healthy democracy,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, (D-House District 49), represents South Arlington and eastern Fairfax County.
With newspapers facing downsizing and closings, due to sales, technology, and lack of funding, Lopez has found. introduced House Bill 2061, which will create a non-refundable liability for eligible local newspaper publishers, for compensation to be paid to local news reporters. . The bill will be presented to the public law subcommittee on Monday.
“According to a 2018 University of North Carolina ReportVirginia has at least six news outlets,” Lopez told WTOP. “News deserts are places where there is no local newspaper to publish the authority of the school board, or the Commonwealth’s attorney, and I believe we need local journalists to inform our constituents of what is happening around them, locally.
While the practice is for large corporations to provide state and regional news, Lopez said the change is depriving Virginians of deep coverage, especially in rural areas.
“Back in the 1960s and 70s there were 60 journalists and reporters who just announced the Great Forum,” he said. “Every small town and every big town in Virginia had a daily or weekly newspaper devoted entirely to that community, and the relationship between that community and the state.”
Lopez’s bill will establish a financial incentive for local journalists: “It will establish a local journalist tax credit – a non-refundable income for the publishers local newspapers for compensation to be paid to local news reporters.”
In the first year, the tax credit is 10% of the wages paid to a domestic reporter, or $5,000, whichever is less. In future years, the credit is five percent of wages, or $2,500.
“The credit will be limited to a total of $5 million per fiscal year, so it’s first come, first served,” Lopez said.
In addition, the bill will create a tax credit for qualified small businesses with less than 50 employees that advertise in a national newspaper, radio or television.
In the first year, the credit will be 80% of the actual amount paid, or $4,000. In future years, the credit is 50% of the actual amount paid, or $2,000. It has a loan of $10 million per year.
Lopez said local media provides a depth that major news organizations don’t.
“These important local news stories are the people who are actually covering the Board of Directors, the school board, focusing on local corruption and issues,” he said. “They’re getting into the weeds in a way that neither the Washington Post nor the Richmond Times Dispatch can.”
Lopez introduced a similar bill last year, which failed in committee.
“What we’re looking for is more local media, more support for more local writers,” Lopez said. “So we don’t miss these ideas, these insights, and ways we can help keep people engaged in their communities.”