Francis Wick, president and CEO of the family company that owns The Wenatchee World, was in Wenatchee last week.
Among other things, Wick talked with World journalists about the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), which would help local newspapers like The World.
I invited readers on our NABUR social medial platform to ask questions of Wick. and Jerry Isenhart from Chelan posed a question. Below is a lightly edited version of a comment and question from Jerry Isenhart of Chelan, and Wick’s response.
— Russ Hemphill,
Isenhart: How do we assure that media that accept these monies don’t become puppets of the giver? It never starts out that way, but it often ends up with a subtle (and then not so subtle) expectation that the media will promote the “party line” and not turn over every rock to get to every truth.
One of the most important roles of media is to hold elected and public officials accountable. I see a huge conflict of interest waiting in the wings.
And I wonder when does this program end? Like most other support programs, the receivers develop a dependency that never goes away and government influence on the media becomes greater and greater.
Having our media separated from the political influence that is most likely to come with “good intentions” is as important as preserving and protecting the separation of church and state.
Francis Wick: Great questions, Jerry, and one many of us wrestle with.
At the core of this complex problem is the ability to fund and support “local professional journalism,” as the business model to support this constitutionally protected trade has been in peril since 2009. Due to the complex challenges being faced with supporting local professional journalism, the newspaper industry has experienced a reduction in employed journalists by nearly 60% at a local level, with some job replacement occuring in larger metro markets … which has its own influential challenges as this article — wwrld.us/politicomedia — from Politico suggested.
The LJSA tax credit is an effort to use efficient tax code to support local employers of professional journalists over the next five years (this effort sunsets) while traditional legacy business models continue to transform to a more stable and sustainable digital existence.
As for ensuring this measure doesn’t interfere with our ability to cover local school boards, county government and high school football games, I defer to the professionals in local newsrooms across this country which discuss daily needed sources/voices to produce well written and informative stories. One of the hallmarks of having a local news organization is the ability to approach that body and question why a certain decision was made. That option of community involved/based journalism gets further away the fewer professional journalists we have. It’s the reason we often say professional local journalists are your neighbors, they’re seen in your community grocery store and/or in the pews of a local church.
Additionally, I view the cross-aisle support in the House for this effort as a vote of confidence for a local free press to do its job correctly and without interference (68 co-sponsors; 14 Rs, 48Ds and 28 states represented.)
Senator Maria Cantwell versioned it well — wwrld.us/canwellmedia — (though I wish more cross aisle support in the Senate would occur for this or any important effort for the American people.)
Penny Abernathy, the nation’s foremost authority on news deserts indicated it well when she tweeted:
If the past is prelude, we’ll lose >100 papers next year — 500 in the next 5 yrs. Congress including payroll tax credit for Local Journalism in Reconciliation can help prevent this.
Government has always had a relationship with local news, and today the support of the LJSA in the Build Back Better federal legislation is a recognition that influences outside of the traditional business model are impacting how to inform at a local level and the alternative of news deserts is not one that strengthens or creates a stronger country that our forefathers intended.