A companion to a House bill to support local newspapers has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

Three senators who the Local Journalism Sustainability Act of 2021 on Thursday, a bill that would help local newspapers reach viability through tax credits.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., comes five weeks after a similar bill was introduced in the House.

“I think it’s really important to these towns and smaller cities,” Kelly told the Green Valley News on Thursday. “These local journalists have really been struggling lately and the pandemic made it worse. We’ve got a lot of newspapers and local broadcasters who have failed because of the way the industry has changed and I think it’s important we figure out a way to help them out.”

Kelly said he was drawn to the legislation because it is consumer- and market-focused.

“The community’s going to have to be on board with this, too… It’s more of like, we’re all in this together approach,” he said.

Both of North Dakota’s senators have yet to review the bill but expressed general support.

A spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the senator was open to the bill.

“Local print media has served an essential role in our nation throughout its history, and community newspapers continue to give a local voice to national issues and ensure coverage of regional topics that might otherwise go unreported. While the Local Journalism Sustainability Act has been recently introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, of which Senator Hoeven is not a member, we are open to considering proposals to assist local media in the digital age so that they can continue to serve their communities,” he told the Williston Herald.

Sen. Kevin Cramer said he was looking forward to reviewing the bill.

“Local journalism is an indispensable part of any city, state, or region, and I am grateful for the privilege of regularly working with the members of the media in North Dakota to meet our shared goal of informing our constituents,” he said. “Unfortunately, outlets in our state and across the country have experienced some hardship in recent years, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But, there may be ways Congress can help. I look forward to reviewing the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, and other legislative solutions, and to working with my colleagues on finding ways to help this vital industry remain a staple of our local communities.”

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act was introduced in the House in July 2020 by U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. It drew 78 co-sponsors but didn’t make it out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill was reintroduced by Kirkpatrick and Newhouse on June 16 as HR 3940 and currently has 28 co-sponsors — 21 Democrats and seven Republicans.

The bill would help local newspapers reach viability over the next few years through three tax credits:

•Newspaper subscriptions: A five-year credit of up to $250 annually to cover 80 percent of subscription costs for readers the first year and 50 percent each of the next four years.

•Hiring journalists: A five-year credit of up to $25,000 the first year and $15,000 each of the next four years to help newspapers hire and pay the salaries of journalists.

•Advertising: A five-year credit of up to $5,000 the first year and $2,500 each of the next four years for small businesses to spend on advertising in local newspapers and media, including local television and radio stations.

The act would sunset in five years and has the support of newspapers and industry groups across the country, including the National Newspapers Association, News Media Alliance and America’s Newspapers.

Kelly said he doesn’t expect growing criticism of the media in recent years to be a roadblock.

“I think don’t think it matters if you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” he said. “If you live in a smaller community, small town or small city, I don’t think it’s a partisan thing. You like your local paper, it’s a local market. I hope it will have broad bipartisanship support for it, I think it will.”

Cantwell, who has long backed legislation to support local news organizations, released a report in October on transformations in the news industry and the effects on local journalism. The report found that the newspaper industry has lost about 70 percent of revenue and 60 percent of its workforce in the past two decades.

The newspaper industry itself cites alarming figures. An estimated 2,000 newspapers have closed across the country since 2004, leaving thousands of communities without a local source of news and information, even as big-city metros continue to contract and pull back on regional coverage.

Kelly said he’s encouraged by the bill’s chances this year.

“It always takes work, but, yes, I think we have a good shot at getting it past,” he said.

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