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Our View: Build Back Better

Tax credit in act would help newspapers

The Build Back Better Act before the Senate is mostly about education, child and family support, and the continuing move toward the use of energy that is easier on the planet’s increasingly threatened environment. There are many other components of the BBB, legislation that in its scope is being compared to Lyndon Johnson’s transformational mid-1960s efforts to put a higher economic safety net in place for families and thus for society.

In the BBB is a tax credit for newspapers that ought to at least partially assist them in retaining and in hiring journalists, where news reporting begins. For year one of the five-year initiative, newspapers will be eligible to receive a $25,000 tax credit for each journalist. In years two to five, $15.000.

The five-year limit is not unlike the duration placed on other incentives in the BBB, as framers had to be mindful of the revenues needed to offset the legislation’s more than $1.5 trillion cost in its current form.

While this support in the way of tax credits will be a welcome aid to many newspapers, it is more limited than in earlier renditions of the BBB. Gone is a tax credit incentive to newspaper subscribers and small donors, and a tax credit that would have encouraged small advertisers to increase their spending. There has been tremendous political pressure to reduce the size of the BBB, and it is easy to imagine that support for newspapers was part of reducing the aggregate amount of the bill.

There have been plenty of nationwide reports about the financial stresses that newspapers have incurred as a result of advertising having moved to the very large aggregators and to social media and the closing of brick-and-mortar retailers, and they are accurate. A lot of previous coverage of significant local issues and government decision-making no longer takes place, to the detriment of democracy, community cohesion and lifestyle. Tax credits will not bring back the newspapers that have closed, but they will to some degree provide an underpinning to existing newsrooms.

The Senate has the Build Better Back Act in its hands, then will come reconciliation with the House. At this point, newspapers will receive some federal support. For the good of communities, we hope that continues.