Legislation Would Provide Tax Benefits to Newspapers Employing Local Journalists

Legislative Gazette file photo

On Feb. 15, more than 100 local newspapers across New York state launched The Empire State News Coalition in an effort to approve a legislative package that several news organizations say would bring relief to the struggling local journalism field.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, S625B/A2958C, would provide tax credits to local news outlets for the employment of local news journalists. Local print and online newspapers with 100 employees or less would receive a 50% tax credit against the first $50,000 of each employee’s salary, with a maximum of $200,000 per organization.

Just two weeks after the bill was introduced in the Assembly, The Empire State News Coalition launched with newspapers and media organizations from across the state, uniting to advocate for the bill’s swift passage through its respective chambers.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Brad Hoylman-Sigal, D–Manhattan, said, “A thriving local news industry is vital to the health of our democracy, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that New Yorkers have access to independent, community-focused journalism. I’m proud that so many publications from every corner of the state have come out in support of this critical legislation.”

According to the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina, the number of newspapers in New York state have decreased by 40% from 2004 to 2019, with a 63% decrease in circulation. New York’s Orleans County became the first in the state to go newspaper-less, and 13 of the state’s 62 counties are down to just one newspaper.

“Professionally-reported, fact-checked local news forges community, keeps elected officials in check, and strengthens democracy. This important legislation would help fortify our business and allow us to keep reinvesting in high-quality local journalists,” said Adam Stone, publisher at Examiner Media in Westchester.

A study by researchers from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota found a plausible connection between rates of newspaper circulation and voter turnout for that area. Local journalism has long been attributed to increasing votership and creating a greater community understanding of local politics and elections.

“News and information from local sources about our communities and community institutions help us to trust and understand our world and our place in the world. It is a terrible irony that as the ability to communicate information increases, our ability to know and trust the sources of communication has precipitously decreased,” said Carrie Woerner, D–Saratoga, Assembly sponsor of the bill. “Whether small towns or big cities, New Yorkers need local journalism to reliably monitor and report on uniquely local concerns from school board policy and the actions of municipal boards to the volunteer organizations and activities that enrich our lives.”

Woerner and Hoylman-Sigal had previously introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act together in 2021, but it died in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate’s Budget and Revenue committee.

“Our coalition’s unprecedented mobilization of more than 150 New York local news outlets in just a few months sent a clear message to Albany: it’s time to support local journalism,” said Zachary Richner, one of The Empire State News Coalition’s founders in a statement.

The bill was included in the Senate and Assembly’s one-house budgets that were released on March 11, providing hope that the bipartisan legislation will be passed this time around.

“All New Yorkers deserve to have their voices heard, and hometown newspapers are key to that mission. We urge government officials and local stakeholders to rally behind us, safeguarding democracy and bolstering the future of local journalism in New York,” added Richner.