By Ann Marie Cumming, Senior Vice President, Communications
Over the past year and a half, America’s local radio and television stations have provided vital, trustworthy and lifesaving coverage of some of the biggest stories in recent memory. From the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine deployment to nationwide civil rights protests, the 2020 election to natural disasters wreaking devastation, broadcasters have documented the events affecting our lives, our homes and our communities.
Serving as a lifeline for local news is nothing new for broadcasters. Since broadcasting’s inception, radio and TV stations have invested countless hours of manpower and enormous resources into producing the high-quality local journalism that audiences turn to every day.
Quality local journalism requires significant investment. Today, an average of one quarter of a TV station’s total operational expenses are spent producing local news, while in larger markets these expenses are even greater. A recent RTDNA survey also found that more than seven out of 10 respondents reported airing local news on their radio stations. In addition to their day-to-day expenses, broadcasters are making long-term investments in newsgathering, such as buying news trucks and helicopters, weather-forecasting technology, and cutting-edge equipment to help them report from the front lines.
Unfortunately, the advertising revenue that broadcasters rely upon to produce local news has been hit hard from multiple fronts. During the pandemic, local radio and television stations have seen revenues shrink as the small businesses that make up the backbone of their advertising bookings – the restaurants, retailers, car dealerships and local venues – have cut expenses to make ends meet. The recent frequency of breaking news events has further strained broadcasters’ budgets. Broadcasters will cut into regular programming to air round-the-clock news coverage of these critical stories, losing out on the advertising revenue in the interest of public service.
Declines in broadcast advertising revenue and increased expenses due to the pandemic and demand for more news coverage are made worse by behemoth tech companies’ dominating the advertising marketplace. Broadcasters have been forced onto unequal footing in the competition for local advertising with digital giants – whose size and scale easily dwarf the entire broadcast industry. These tech giants not only yield an unfair competitive advantage in the competition for local advertising, but their control over digital platforms limits radio and TV broadcasters’ ability to monetize content online.
Thankfully, legislation recently introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell, Mark Kelly and Ron Wyden and now cosponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz, Edward Markey, Edward, Patty Murray and Amy Klobuchar would support local news by helping radio and television stations invest in journalism and journalists.
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act would provide tax credits for local media outlets such as television and radio stations that hire local journalists for broadcast newsrooms. This would enable news outlets to produce more local journalism that keeps our communities informed, holds decision-makers to account and helps combat misinformation and disinformation that plague digital platforms.
Upon the bill’s introduction, NAB joined with media organizations such as the News Media Alliance, America’s Newspapers and the National Newspaper Association – along with newsgatherers at SAG-AFTRA, AFL-CIO, Writers Guild of America – East, The News Guild-CWA and Report for America – in supporting the legislation and urging its passage.
The legislation also counts as its supporters the Native American Journalists Association, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Native Public Media and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. State broadcast associations representing all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have also written to congressional leaders advocating for passage of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.
The bill would also provide tax credits to small businesses that advertise with local media outlets, including broadcast stations. By helping small businesses to afford advertising and publicize their goods and services to their communities, the legislation would serve to boost their sales and stimulate local economies. Radio and television broadcasters strongly support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would enable hiring of reporters and newsgatherers, help generate more trustworthy and critical local news, and spur our communities’ recovery from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are encouraged that Congress has included a portion of this bipartisan legislation in the budget reconciliation proposal. We urge policymakers to ensure that broadcast journalists are included in the final bill.