The Seattle Times is fighting for a local, independent free press through a new initiative, a new Save the Free Press website. To introduce the initiative, Seattle Times Free Press editor Brier Dudley wrote a November 12, 2021 column in which he outlines the many goals of the website and how the average reader can help support a noble cause.
“The Seattle Times is the oldest family-owned daily metropolitan newspaper in the United States. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our public-service mission, re-investing in and protecting our local legacy to preserve and perpetuate quality local journalism. The Seattle Times’ Save the Free Press public-service initiative seeks to secure a sustainable future for local, independent journalism; to build momentum around industry reform; and to protect the free and independent local press that is so vital to democracy,” says the Save the Free Press website.
Creating awareness of the seriousness of the issue is one key goal of the Save the Free Press website. Dudley hopes that the new initiative and website will draw attention to the journalism crisis and help advocate for long-term sustainability and short-term federal intervention. To do so, the site includes a range of reports, news stories, commentaries and other information for educators and anyone else who wants to learn more about the importance of a free press and why we are in danger of losing it.
Loss of local newspapers
For a multitude of reasons, many communities, particularly those in small towns and rural areas, have lost their local newspapers because they were not financially sustainable. This has left news deserts across the country. Dudley said that newsrooms have decreased by about 60% since 2008. The New York Times reports that there are now 200 U.S. counties without a newspaper and more than 2,100 newspapers have been shut down since 2004. The Save the Free Press website shares reports and resources to highlight the problem, and it provides links to media and nonprofit organizations that are fighting to protect the free press.
The Seattle Times, owned by the Blethen family since 1896, remains a locally-owned metro newspaper, but it has had its share of setbacks, layoffs and major moves.
“The Times, one of the few remaining family owned metro dailies, has been exploring new ways to fund its journalism. Over the last decade it’s had success with a hybrid approach. The newsroom is now reinforced with teams of reporters and editors focused on issues like education and mental health, supported by philanthropy,” said Dudley.
Part of this hybrid approach has been accepting donations from the Investigative Journalism Fund, a tax-deductible, community-supported program of The Times and the Seattle Foundation. To date, over $1.8 million has been donated to help The Times to build a large, local investigative team.
“It’s about holding powerful people accountable and it’s about saving lives,” said Michele Matassa Flores, executive editor of The Seattle Times.
Advocate for federal intervention
There has been support in Congress for federal intervention and incentives to help support local news organizations. These measures include tax credits to help retain and hire local journalists, antitrust reform and enforcement, and putting an end to unfair competition by large tech platforms. Dudley said the tax credits would not give any particular news outlet special treatment, nor would they be tied to specific stories in exchange for the tax credits.
One such proposal – the Local Journalism Sustainability Act – was introduced by Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) in July and has support from Report for America, America’s Newspapers, National Newspaper Association, News Media Alliance and Rebuild Local News Coalition. It proposed three types of tax credits to support local journalism over the next five years:
- Local newspaper subscribers would receive a five-year tax credit of up to $250 annually. The credit covers 80% of subscription costs in the first year and 50% over the next four years.
- Local newspapers would receive a five-year tax credit of $25,000 in the first year and $15,000 in the next four years to hire journalists who work a minimum of 100 hours per quarter covering local news.
- Qualifying small businesses would receive a five-year tax credit of up to $5,000 in the first year and up to $2,500 in the next four years to cover advertising costs (80% in year 1 and up to 50% in years 2 through 5) on local TV and radio stations and newspapers.
“For many rural communities like ours in Central Washington, local news is the only way to receive important information and updates. Unfortunately, many of our locally-owned newspapers have been struggling to make ends meet,” said Rep. Newhouse in a June 16, 2021 news release. “By providing tax credits for readers and small businesses and by empowering our local journalists, we can begin to help our small newspapers remain resilient and continue to provide in-depth perspectives that inform their readership regarding local current events.”
This act was not passed during the current legislative session, but one of three provisions is included in the Build Back Better act moving its way through the Congress. According to Poynter, the federal government would subsize half of newsroom salaries up to $50,000 the first year and 30% for the next four years. The New York Times reports that local news outlets could receive as much as $1.67 billion as small part of the Build Back Better aid package, passed by the house in November. The bill now goes onto the Senate.
Ways people can support the cause
The Save the Free Press website offers four ways people can support the cause:
- Sign up for a weekly free press newsletter
- Donate to the Investigative Journalism Fund
- Explore resources to protect the free press
- Share the website with others
- Contact the organization to learn more
- Subscribe to The Seattle Times or your local newspaper
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It will take an entire country to save journalism, but it will not go away regardless of the forms it may take. We may continue to lose local news outlets, see the frequency of print editions decline, and watch the number of pages of our local paper dwindle, but the free press will never die. It does, however, need everyone’s help to ensure that journalism is the best that it can be. The institution of a free press needs financial support, strong advocates and legislators to carry the cause. While this one website can’t do all the heavy lifting, it makes a valiant effort to draw attention to the cause and to provide easy ways for people to help. We applaud their efforts and hope everyone reading this article, or visiting their website, will share it with their family and friends.