Imagine this page was blank except for one question: “What if there were no local reporters?” That was the front-page question posed by our friends at Pamplin Media last week.

It’s a good question, and regardless of how you get local news — by watching TV, listening to local radio or reading a story in the newspaper or on a news organization’s website — it’s not hyperbole to say communities suffer when there is no local news coverage or when independently owned media companies are gobbled up by hedge funds that gut newsrooms.

And it’s a timely question because there is a bipartisan provision in the federal budget reconciliation bill working its way through Congress that will give media companies a temporary payroll tax credit to hire and retain journalists. Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden chairs the Senate Finance Committee that will have a great deal of say on whether this provision makes it through to the finish line.

Wyden is a co-sponsor of the bill written by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Being the son of a prominent journalist, he is a longtime champion of a free press. In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Wyden responded to a question about the potential for some to dislike government helping the press. He said, “This is not the government putting its hand on certain types of speech. This is about generally empowering local journalism in a big way. By the way, there are plenty of local journalism outlets that span across the political spectrum, left, right, center, you name it.”

On the House side, the bill was co-authored by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., and it is strongly supported by two key Oregon representatives — Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer.

For anyone who follows the challenges of media companies and the reality of growing news deserts around the country, this temporary tax credit known as the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is a welcome relief that will directly aid news-gathering organizations, including an estimated 113 newsrooms in Oregon. It’s the only piece — some would say the most important piece — left of an original three-part proposal intended to stabilize and reform an industry upended by the deadly trio of Google, Facebook and the pandemic.

The tax credit sunsets in five years, giving media companies a reasonable timeframe to build a sustainable business model that supports local journalism in the internet age. It also sends a message to young people that journalism is a career worth pursuing where there will be jobs available with those companies that make the successful transition.

Numerous studies show what happens in communities where there’s no professionally trained journalists asking questions and accurately reporting on what is happening at a local level: Government waste and potential for corruption by public officials increases, voter turnout drops and communities find it harder to solve their own problems. News deserts create democracy deserts, especially in rural communities.

If you are reading this and want to help, email our Oregon congressional delegation and let them know you support keeping the Local Journalism Sustainability Act temporary tax credit in the budget reconciliation package.

U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden ron_wyden@wyden.senate.gov

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley senator@merkley.senate.gov

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (District 1) congresswomanbonamici@mail.house.gov

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz (District 2) cliff.bentz@mail.house.gov

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (District 3) earl.blumenauer@mail.house.gov

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (District 4) peter.defazio@mail.house.gov

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (District 5) kurt.schrader@mail.house.gov

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Heidi Wright is the COO of EO Media Group and the publisher of The Bulletin and serves as treasurer for America’s Newspapers, an industry group representing more than 1,600 newspapers across the country. Email her at hwright@eomediagroup.com.

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