Collapse of the Local Free Press: Stopgap Legislation Urgently Needed


Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen writes that our democracy has become fragile, and that “the major fault lines are evidenced by significant inequity in education, health care, public safety, wealth, and age.” He alerts us to an even more serious threat—a threat to the means by which we know about, respond to, and deal with those problems⸺and that is the ongoing collapse of our local free press system. As Blethen says: “The newest fault line has become the primary threat to our democracy: the demise of America’s once vaunted local free press system.”
     ⸺ please see Frank Blethen (Seattle Times publisher), “Congress must act now to save local newspapers—and democracy,” The Seattle Times, 4 Dec. 2022, Print, D1 & D4. The digital version was published 2 Dec. 2022 at https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/to-save-democracy-and-its-wingmen-local-newspapers-congress-must-act-by-years-end/


Until the United States can establish a consistent process by which the local free press, in this digital age, gets paid for its work (a process already being established in countries like Australia), Congress must pass, by year end, two critical stopgap measures: the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (H.R. 3940) and the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (S. 673). As Blethen says, passing these measures will help “to stop local newspaper closures and the carnage of layoffs in our local newsrooms.”

When a newspaper goes away, only silence and ignorance remain, and then the vacuum is filled by blowhards and con men.

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For more about the importance of our free press, please see the following:

Excerpts from President Joe Biden’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., on 30 Apr. 2022 were reprinted in the 8 May 2022 Seattle Times newspaper.

     “A poison is running through our democracy of all—all of this taking place with disinformation massively on the rise, where the truth is buried by lies, and the lies live on as truth.
     “What’s clear—and I mean this from the bottom of my heart—(is) that you, the free press, matter more than you ever did in the last century. No, I really mean it.
     “I’ve always believed that good journalism hold up a mirror to ourselves to reflect on the good, the bad, and the true.”

            “President Kennedy once said, and I quote, ‘Without debate, without criticism, no administration, no country, and no republic can survive.
     “The First Amendment grants a free press extraordinary protection, but with it comes, as many of you know, a very heavy obligation: to seek the truth as best you can—not to inflame or entertain, but to illuminate and educate.”

            “The truth matters. American democracy is not a reality show. It’s not a reality show. It’s reality itself. And the reality is that we’re a great country.
     “Our future is bright. It’s not guaranteed, because democracy is never guaranteed. It has to be earned. It has to be defended. It has to be protected.”
     “And here in America, good journalism, good satire about our leaders, about our society is quintessentially an American thing. It demonstrates the power of our example.”

⸺ “President Biden on the free press: ‘The truth matters,’” The Seattle Times, 8 May 2022, Print, D2. The digital version was published 6 May 2022 at https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/president-biden-on-the-free-press-the-truth-matters/

Note: a transcript of the full speech by President Biden is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/05/01/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-white-house-correspondents-association-dinner/

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