Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Congress Expected To Take-Up Local Media Aid This Week

Congress is looking to help struggling local newspapers, TV and radio stations qualify for federal coronavirus aid, according to The Wall Street Journal citing people familiar with the matter.

The coming coronavirus legislation expected to be introduced in the House as soon as this week will include a provision to expand newspapers’ and broadcasters’ eligibility for forgivable small business loans, the people said.

Meanwhile, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) are working to find ways to move the proposal forward in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“The Covid-19 crisis has shown us how essential local news and information is to us,” Ms. Cantwell said. “Now is not the time to cut newsroom jobs critical to giving the public regional data and news on Covid-19 outbreaks.”

Many local news outlets haven’t been able to apply for the Small Business Administration’s forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans because of “affiliation rules” that force them to be measured by the size of their parent companies. The new provision to be considered by Congress would waive such rules when it comes to local news outlets.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that newspapers representing more than 80% of the industry by circulation are disqualified from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program because of the way their companies are structured, according to data from the Alliance for Audited Media.

To make sure that the money doesn’t go to businesses that are too large, the legislation would limit eligibility to broadcasters with revenues up to $41.5 million a year, the current Small Business Administration limit, some of the people said. News publishers with up to 1,000 employees would be eligible.

The pandemic has brought surging web traffic and boosted subscriptions to local news outlets, but it hasn’t been enough to overcome the decimation of advertising at the same time. More than 33,000 employees at news publishers have been laid off, furloughed or had pay cut since the start of the crisis, according to a tracker compiled by the NewsGuild-CWA, the largest journalist union.

Newspaper and broadcasting trade groups have lobbied for the changes, and a bipartisan majority of members of both the House and Senate have signed letters pledging support for the local news industry.

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