Death of Bill, a support for local newspapers, in Richmond

A local journalism support bill introduced in the Virginia state legislature this session by state deputy Alfonso Lopez has died. HB 1217 reportedly provided up to $5 million per year in income tax credits to news organizations that employ local journalists and up to $10 million per year in income tax credits to businesses who advertise with these media.

Bill Lopez died failing to make it out of a finance subcommittee meeting, with six Republicans voting against and three Democrats voting for. Lopez says he will continue to push the measure in future sessions until he can get it through.

The bill would encourage advertising revenue at local newspapers, which pay the salaries of local reporters, according to Lopez. It’s also good for democracy, he said, because areas without local coverage tend to have more government and small business corruption and see lower local election turnout.

Lopez, whose district covers the Seven Corners/Cullmore district adjacent to the Church in the City of Falls, modeled her bill on the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), included in the Build Back Act. President Joe Biden’s Better Act. He came from the Rebuild Local News coalition, coordinated by Steve Waldman, the founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.

While new forms of media – including online-only and non-profit media – have risen from the ashes of obsolete newspapers, they are not ubiquitous enough to counter the decline caused by lost advertising revenue and exacerbated by hedge fund acquisitions, according to Waldman.

A glimmer of hope for newspapers in this year’s legislative session in Richmond: They still benefit exclusively from state legal notice laws that require advertisements in a widely printed newspaper.

Jerry B. Hatch