SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON) —  Several lawmakers are voicing their concerns over the decline in local journalism in recent years.

In California, three Senators have introduced legislation to bolster local journalism. 

SB 911, introduced by Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) and co-authors Sens. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) would provide state grants to individuals and organizations to help them cover issues of importance within their communities. 

According to the bill, it would create a state board that includes at least one member from ethnic media, academia, non-profit news, and others who would administer a public fund to distribute grants to “bona fide” news organizations and reporters. 

“A vibrant local press that informs the public and acts as a government watchdog has been vital to the survival of American democracy,” Senator Glazer said. 

“But over the past couple decades, the closure of many local newspapers and the decline of most others has created vast ‘news deserts’ where virtually no local coverage remains. This bill will offer news organizations and individuals the tools to revive the oversight function of the local press.”

The bill is modeled after the California Arts Council and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Over the past decade and a half, a devastating one-fourth of local newspapers have vanished nationwide, Sen. Newman said.

According to the Pew Research Center, estimated daily newspaper circulation fell 11 percent from the previous year since 2017. 

How it works:

  • An 11-member board appointed by the Legislature and the governor would manage the program.
  • The board would be composed of at least one (1) ethnic media publication; (1) non-profit media organization, (1) journalism professor or dean, one (1) publisher each of publications of up to 10,000 circulation, 50,000 circulation and 100,000+ circulation; one (1) online news service, three (3) members of the general public reflecting the state’s diversity and one (1) public interest group with a focus on promoting accountable government and a robust democracy.
  • The California Board for the Funding of Public Interest Media would review grant proposals from bonafide journalists and media organizations.
  • Funds would be provided only to applicants who committed to increasing coverage of public affairs appropriate to communities they cover and sharing their content in the public domain for other media to use.
  • The board would exercise no editorial judgment or oversight but would ensure that funds were spent as promised.
  • The board would receive a one-time, $50 million allocation to distribute to qualified organizations or individuals over a 5-year trial period.

Benefits:

  • The program encourages independent, local public service news coverage.
  • Helps independent local news organizations or individual reporters to cover the cost of reporting local public service issues.
  • Promotes the employment of journalists for local, public service coverage.
  • Fosters an environment of public trust in which all news organizations are free from influence of the Board, other than a commitment to focus on public interest news coverage.

Padilla urges Congressional action to support local journalism 

At the national level, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) expressed his support for Congressional action to ensure local newspapers and journalists can continue to thrive and provide local, independent news to the communities they serve. 

At a Senate hearing, Wednesday on journalism, competition, and the effects of the market power on a free press — Padilla questioned witnesses Jennifer Bertetto, President and CEO of Trib Total Media, Inc., and Joel Oxley, General Manager of WTOP News to understand what’s at stake if local and community-facing news outlets continue to disappear.

“Our democracy depends on a healthy and vibrant information ecosystem,” said Senator Padilla. 

“Yet, in the last 20 years, more than a quarter of the country’s newspapers have disappeared. Local, regional, community and independent media are understaffed, under-resourced, and in need of assistance as they work to identify new, sustainable business models,” Padilla added.  

“It is critical that Congress explore how we can assist the news industry as it tries to find its footing during this transition period.”