Cantwell to Newspapers: Help Me Help You

The U.S. senator called “one of our industry’s greatest champions” is urging newspapers and their trade associations to help persuade lawmakers in Congress to add financial support for local journalism in the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by the president.

Senator Cantwell

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington state, spoke to America’s Newspapers’ virtual conference Pivot 2021 today (May 11) and repeated her position that proposed federal spending should add $2.3 billion for “communications infrastructure,” with the intent of boosting local journalism crafted by newspapers and television stations. Adding back journalism jobs eliminated during the newspaper industry’s continued contraction, in turn, helps to “build communities and ensuring trust,” she said.

The federal assistance would come in the form of tax credits and grants to the newspaper industry. The tax credits would offset the costs of health-care benefits and employee payroll, she said. The grants would come from the Department of Commerce. Both credits and grants would allow newspapers to restore jobs and to “build back” local content, Cantwell said.

She labeled local news a “centerpiece of democracy.”

When introducing Cantwell, America’s Newspapers President Alan Fisco called the senator “one of our industry’s greatest champions.” Fisco is also the president of The Seattle Times Co.

Last year, Cantwell distributed a welcomed report that examined the challenging state of local news as well as the “unfair competition” and “unfair market practices” used by digital giants to dominate advertising online. (Read the Relevant Point about Cantwell’s “Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened.”)

In her America’s Newspapers appearance via Zoom, Cantwell mentioned the lost revenue and workforce cuts to make this point:”We need to build this critical infrastructure now.”

She applauded newspapers’ performance in providing essential news and information during the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic and said it once again confirmed local journalism’s relevant reputation and accountability. “I can’t imagine going through COVID without newspapers,” she added. “We still saw the public and advertisers holding on to trusted brands.”

When asked by an attendee whether the rest of the Senate shared her perspectives, Cantwell said she thought other senators were “coming around” and then acknowledged perspectives were “all over the place.”

There’s also no immediate consensus among the Democrats and Republicans on what infrastructure encompasses in President Biden’s plan.

Cantwell called the next two to three years crucial for the future of local news and that company executives, publishers, general managers and executive directors should press their respective representatives in Congress for the federal help that she outlined.

“Please persevere,” Cantwell said before heading to her next meeting. “Trust me, we need you.”

–Tom Silvestri

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