By Dan Kennedy
Now that federal efforts to provide assistance to local news have fallen short, we may see more activity at the state level. One such effort is a bill filed in the Massachusetts Legislature that would provide tax credits to people who subscribe to a “local community newspaper,” whether in print or online. Boston Globe reporter Dana Gerber has the details (and quotes me).
The bill was filed last month by Rep. Jeffrey Rosario Turco, D-Revere. The legislation, H.D.1518, is similar to one of the three tax credits in the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act — it provides a tax credit for subscribers of up to $250 a year. As I told Gerber, this may prove to be symbolic given that state income taxes are lower than federal taxes. Still, it would focus attention on the importance of local news, which is not a bad thing.
The devil, as always, is in the details. According to the bill, an eligible newspaper or website would have to provide “original content derived from primary sources and relating to news and current events,” serve “the needs of a regional or local community,” and employ “at least 1 local news journalist who resides in such regional or local community.”
That last requirement could prove to be a sticking point. Low-paid community journalists can’t be expected to live in an affluent community where the cost of housing is sky-high. That was as much of an issue decades ago as it is today. Maybe “regional or local” means that a reporter who covers, say, Concord could live in Lowell; I hope so.
Another challenge is that local news is increasingly being provided by nonprofit news organizations as the Gannett newspaper chain closes weekly newspapers and cuts back on community coverage. Most nonprofits offer their news for free, and donations to nonprofits are already tax-exempt.
It’s also hard not to notice that Turco is proposing his legislation in something of a vacuum, as the state commission approved two years ago to study the local news crisis in Massachusetts has yet to get off the ground. I had a hand in drafting the bill that created the commission would be a member. Maybe 2023 will be the year that there’s some movement on that front.