New York State residents’ access to local news at risk

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By Mark Vinciguerra

New York State residents are at risk of being deprived of access to news about their communities as disruption to the business model of news publication threatens to accelerate journalism job losses.

Here are some facts:

  • Newspaper newsroom staff in the United States have declined by more than half since 2004.
  • More than 2,000 American newspapers have closed since 2004, including nearly half of New York State’s weekly newspapers.
  • Between 2000 and 2012, print advertising fell 71% as advertisers migrated to a digital ecosystem controlled by Google through its dominance of online ad sales, brokerage and placement.
  • And when Covid-19 came on the scene, advertising revenue dropped even further and has not yet fully recovered, while costs to print and distribute newspapers have continued to skyrocket.
  • Research demonstrates that a decline in local journalism leads to a decline in civic engagement, public health and safety, cost of government borrowing, a rise in extreme partisanship and mistrust and a risk to the survival of small local businesses and community organizations.

How can New York State help?

A proposed payroll tax credit offers a lifeline to newspapers that would enable them to continue to employ journalists to cover their communities by offsetting other increased expenses such as paper and gasoline.

The goal is to enable professional journalists to remain in the community and develop relationships and institutional memory that improve coverage, trust and depth of reporting.

The tax credit would also be provided to local broadcasters (such as public radio stations, to local online news organizations and to not-for-profit news organizations).

The tax credit is modeled on other existing New York State tax credits for digital game creators, TV script writers, agricultural operations and of course, the NY Film Tax Credit. The film tax credit alone is currently funded at $420 million per year, and the Governor has proposed increasing that to $700 million per year.

New York State’s newspapers are asking for $150 million per year for five years.

The way it works is newspapers pay their full-time journalism staff as well as all the usual payroll taxes. For all salaries up to $50,000, newspapers receive a credit of 50% of the difference between the payroll taxes and $50,000. The credit is sent in the form of a tax refund check. The refund could amount to $25,000 per journalism employee who produces news for a local audience. There is a cap of $1 million per newsroom.

What can you do?

If this proposed payroll tax credit for newspapers is to be in the state budget, Governor Kathy Hochul needs to be persuaded to include it.

You can do your part by contacting Governor Hochul’s press office at 518-474-8390 and asking her to support bills s.625/a.2958 and remind her how vital it is to sustain local journalism and community media in the state.

Time is short – the legislature and Governor will enter final negotiations in the next couple of weeks, and the budget is due April 1.

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Mark Vinciguerra is president of Capital Region Independent Media.