December 1, 2023

Build Back Better: Real Dollars for Media, Not Tax Credits

Build Back Better: Real Dollars for Media, Not Tax Credits

By Dr. John E. Warren

When the Build Back Better Act passed the House of Representatives last year, there was some excitement about a provision which included a payroll tax credit for local news organizations. It was stated that this Act, if passed by the Senate and becomes law, would provide $1.7 billion for local media outlets. Researchers at the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism found that there are at least 200 counties in the U.S. that lack a local newspaper and the Pew Research Center reported a decline of 71,000 journalism positions in 2008 to 31,000 in 2020, a 57 percent drop.

While the decline in local papers is real and disturbing, those pushing for a payroll tax credit for journalists miss the point. The legislation and the discussion misses a very important point concerning small community newspapers, in general, and Black newspapers, now in their 195th year, in particular.

Businesses operating at a loss do not need a tax credit. Businesses operating at a loss have a hard time making payrolls and as a result, most small newspapers hire journalists as independent contractors because they can’t afford payroll taxes and benefits. The issue is not a tax credit for the journalist, its sufficient revenues for the newspapers as a business that will allow them to hire journalists either on payroll or as independent contractors

If the President and the Congress really want to help small newspapers, which appear to have declined from 5,000 community newspapers a few decades ago to less than 2,000 today, there is a means of addressing this issue as a win/win for all those concerned. The solution is for the President to issue an Executive Order requiring that all bids for government contracts under Build Back Better must not only adhere to Title V of the U.S. Code’s Administrative Procedures Act that requires the publication of  “Notice” under due process, but also that such notices be inclusively published in local newspapers as a mandate for local opportunity in the solicitation of responses to Request for Proposals {RFP). The publication of such notices in local newspapers would bring both notice and dollars to the communities of Main Street. Those dollars would help local newspapers hire journalists in a way far more meaningful than tax credits to people who can’t afford payrolls.

The President could make such an Executive Order so inclusive that the benefit would be far reaching and felt immediately. Perhaps the Vice President, who is from California and familiar with the Black Press in particular, and Mr. Sedgwick Richmond, a Domestic Policy Advisor to the President from New Orleans, might be helpful in making the case for such an Executive Order.

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