Legislation, Politics, Democracy

Our awareness, knowledge, involvement, and votes determine whether our environment and nature are conserved.                   MRM

2023-01-15 note: Point one (and its current status) of Blethen’s ten-point plan to save local journalism is Pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. [JCPA].

The JCPA “enables newspapers to “collectively bargain with dominant tech companies and get paid for Big Tech’s use of newspaper content.”

     addendum: For the importance of the antitrust measures in the JCPA, and the tech giants’ fierce lobbying campaign to derail the JCPA, see the article by Brier Dudley: “U.S. Sen. Klobuchar on threat to local papers, democracy,” The Seattle Times, 20 Nov. 2022, Print, D1 & D4; 18 Nov. 2022, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/qa-u-s-sen-klobuchar-on-threat-to-local-papers-democracy/

     addendum: The JCPA was withdrawn from the defense authorization package in December 2022 “after a flurry of criticism and lobbying by dominant platforms and allies,” as reported by Brier Dudley in the newspaper article “Next Steps for Saving Local Journalism,” The Seattle Times, 8 Jan. 2023, Print, D2; 6 Jan. 2023, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/next-steps-for-saving-local-journalism/  Dudley goes on to say that “key supporters in Congress remain committed to getting JCPA done.” He adds that “Australia proved the model, Canada is close to passing a similar policy and the U.K., India and other democracies are considering versions.”

2022-12-18     Ten-point plan to save local newspapers
Frank Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times, has been writing a series on the crisis occurring in America’s local journalism. In his 18 Dec. newspaper article, “A 10-point plan for the government to shore up local newspapers,” he describes how trusted local independent newspapers are failing (currently at the rate of two newspapers per week), some taken over by short-term, absentee investors “leading to ghost newspapers in news deserts, with scant coverage and dire consequences for the health of towns, cities, counties and the nation.” He goes on to say that “after two decades of unchecked media consolidation and growing tech dominance, more than a fifth of Americans now live in places with little to no local coverage.”

Big Tech is scooping up the work of reporters and editors, not paying for it, and digitally sucking away advertising dollars. Countries such as Australia are solving that problem, ensuring that journalists receive their fair due, but in America we’ve not yet fixed the poaching, and consequently local news, being unfunded, is disappearing across wide stretches of the country. The resulting loss of researched and cross-checked stories, evidenced-based information articles, and opinion pieces written by experts then gets filled in by the spouting of online and on-air gossips and bloviators. From such stews will come our policies and politicians—if we allow the news-theft process to continue.
      The Seattle Times, members of Congress (Senator Amy Klobuchar and Maria Cantwell, for example), and others are striving to prevent our democracy-essential local journalism from further deteriorating, by ensuring that newspapers get reimbursed for the work that their reporters, editors, and other staff do. As Blethen says in point one of the ten points in his article, passing the bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act “would enable newspapers to collectively bargain with dominant tech companies and get paid for Big Tech’s use of newspaper content.”

Our founders knew that a healthy and vigorous free press is necessary for the health of our democracy. As Blethen emphasizes, newspapers are “the only business specifically mentioned and given protection in the U.S. Constitution.”

We, as citizens of a democracy whose founders wisely secured a free press, have the responsibility to keep with up with the news, insist that we get quality news, be educated about what makes quality news, maintain the free press with our subscriptions and our engagement, and, especially at this time, be aware that our local free press is struggling and that solutions are needed.     MRM

     ⸺ Quotations in the above commentary are from this article: Frank Blethen (Seattle Times publisher), “A 10-point plan for the government to shore up local newspapers,” The Seattle Times, 18 Dec. 2022, Print, D1 & D4; 16 Dec. 2022, Web, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/a-10-point-plan-for-the-government-to-shore-up-local-newspapers/

2022-12-07  Collapse of the Local Free Press: Stopgap Legislation Urgently Needed
See https://mrmconservation.com/2022/12/07/collapse-of-the-local-free-press-stopgap-legislation-urgently-needed/

2022-11-21                 Communities need a vigorous, healthy, local free press
“This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”
— Said by the gun-runner character Jackie Brown in the book by George Higgins, The Friends of Eddy Coyle (1970).

There was a day when a legislator held a snowball in the halls of Congress, implying that global warming is malarkey, despite science yelling at us about what’s coming. Reality marched on, climate change came, and the decisions we make today are critical to determining the damage that will be done and how we will live together during the ongoing makeover.
     Quality sources of information are important to our local climate-action decisions and to how we manage our communities. Regarding what we do in our towns, cities, and states, a local free press ensures—with its on-the-ground reporting, investigation and follow-up, and back-and-forth pro/con dialogue—that good information and truth percolate out so that we’re able to make good decisions. But without a local free press, we’re at the mercy of whichever agenda-driven, algorithm-creating entity controls the internet and airwaves.

We in Washington State are fortunate to have a strong local newspaper in The Seattle Times, which is working hard to save journalism in smaller communities. The following is my synopsis of the 2021 year-end message from the publisher of The Seattle Times, about saving the country’s local free press, which is worth reviewing as we get closer to the end of 2022.

            ⸺ MRM

Seattle Times’s End-of-the-Year (2021) Update on Saving our Local Free Press

Frank A. Blethen, “From the publisher: A year-end message on saving our country’s local free press system,” Seattle Times, 26 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/inside-the-times/from-the-publisher-a-year-end-message-on-saving-our-countrys-local-free-press-system/

     Also available as “Saving Our Country’s Local Free Press System,” Seattle Times, Print, 26 Dec. 2021, A8 & A9.

In his message, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen provides an “update on the remarkable progress of the ‘Save the Local Free Press’ movement.”  Such progress is critically necessary given the decimation of newsrooms in the last decade (“44,000 local newsrooms jobs lost in the last 10 years”). This decimation has led to many towns and cities no longer having local reporting (a situation known as a “news desert”) or having newspapers that are hollow shells of what they once were (“entities known as ghost newspapers”).

[My comment: It’s reporters on the ground who know the local territory, people, and issues—and it’s those reporters who do the interviewing, researching, and fact-based reporting that creates our irreplaceable local news. That’s why it’s important to have well-staffed newsrooms that can accurately and thoroughly cover the many facets of our communities. MRM]

Despite hits taken by newspapers, local newspapers [print and digital] are still “regarded as the most trusted and news information source by a majority of Americans,” and it is local newspapers that “produce more local reporting than TV, radio, and online outlets combined.”

As Blethen notes, when we don’t have “strong local newspaper stewardship,” [as opposed to “absentee-owned ghost papers”], and when we don’t have “strong local content,” then fake news and misinformation flourishes. This situation has contributed significantly to the “worst civil discord and deepest societal fault lines since Civil War Times.”

Blethen points out that “our Founding Fathers created the local free press system as the essential platform for our democratic experiment,” for they knew that “a democracy could not develop without the ubiquitous availability of news and a literate citizenry.” Consequently, they created the First Amendment, created the U.S. Post Office, subsidized publisher’s distribution costs, and invested heavily in public education.

Key Actions that Blethen says are needed to save our local free press—and hence, our democracy—are

 1. “Rebuild local newspaper newsrooms.”

2. “Replace absentee financial mercenaries” (the far-away owners who scavenge a newspaper’s financial assets and leave newsrooms emaciated).

3. “Rebuild local stewardships” (he lists several ways to do this, as you’ll see from his article).

He also stresses that Google’s and Facebook’s digital advertising monopolies must be ended and that these companies must pay for the newspaper content they use.

Per this article, these Washington State representatives have engaged to save our local free press: Sen. Maria Cantwell, Senator Patty Murray, Congressman Dan Newhouse, Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. McMorris Rogers, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and former Rep. Dave Reichert.

Recent legislation to save the free press:

Community Newspaper Act (Sen. Patty Murray was responsible for the passage of this act)

Local Journalism Sustainability Act (Sen. Maria Cantwell has been key to the development of this proposed legislation).

Blethen says that “the critical steps to “restoring our vibrant and trusted newspaper system and saving our democracy are

            – Pass the Local Journalism Sustainability Act’

            – Develop a permanent subsidy to replace the lost postal subsidy our founders created.

            – Severely limit absentee newspaper ownership in the future.

            – Break up Big Tech marketplace abuse and monopolistic practices.

            – Hold Big Tech accountable for fake news, misinformation, and irresponsible social media.

            – Create incentives for new local stewardships to replace the absentee short-term investors.”

Some local-free-press articles from the Seattle Times (around the time that Blethin’s message was published):

21.12.20 Andre Stepankowsky (retired city editor of The Daily News in Longview), “Stop letting newspapers fall prey to vulture capitalists,” Seattle Times, Print, 19 Dec. 2021, D2; Web, 17 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/stop-letting-newspapers-fall-prey-to-vulture-capitalists/

21-12-16 Margaret Sullivan, “Vulture capitalists are circling my old newspaper,” Seattle Times, 16 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/vulture-capitalists-are-circling-my-old-newspaper/

21-12-08 Brier Dudley, “Biden Democracy Summit highlights saving press,” Seattle Times, 8 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/biden-democracy-summit-highlights-saving-press/