Congress

Efforts in Washington to pass additional stimulus legislation remain jammed in a disagreement between the two parties on how far to go, but there’s growing support to include assistance for local media – including radio – in any future coronavirus relief package. In a letter to Senate leaders and budget writers, a dozen Senate Democrats say the impact of the pandemic – including plummeting advertising revenue – could decimate regional and local news outlets, even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their reporting amidst the public health crisis.

“As many communities have shut down local restaurants, entertainment venues, and other non-essential businesses in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve,’ local papers and local broadcasters have lost even more of the advertising revenue they rely on from these businesses,” the senators wrote. The letter points out some local newspapers have ceased printing and laid-off their staff in recent weeks. It also acknowledges that the growth of social media and technology platforms has concentrated critical advertising revenue in the hands of a few companies like Google and Facebook. “Local news is in a state of crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators said.

Local media outlets have already said they’d welcome whatever federal assistance could come their way. The National Association of Broadcasters last week joined with the newspaper industry seeking federal aid to help radio and television stations coping with the impact of the government forcing businesses to shut down to slow the spread of the virus.

The NAB, with the News Media Alliance, National Newspaper Association (NNA) and America’s Newspapers, want local media to be able to take part in the Paycheck Protection Program. That’s the $2.2 trillion stimulus package already passed that provides up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

The NAB and newspaper group also called on Congress to consider another stimulus bill to include an additional $5 to $10 billion in direct funding, which federal agencies could spend on local media advertising. The groups said such funding would not only buy ad time that would inform Americans of how to stay safe, but also support the media outlets they rely on for news.

The advocacy group Public Knowledge supports efforts to funnel federal aid to local media outlets like radio stations. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the extraordinary value of local news outlets, which have seen huge jumps in traffic since the beginning of March. Local news stories are now among the most viewed stories in the country – even as local media fight to survive the pandemic,” said Lisa Macpherson, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge. “Without funding from the next stimulus package, we may lose one of the most important sources of information we have to navigate through this crisis,” she said.

On Capitol Hill on Monday there appeared to be little appetite for compromise as House Democrats worked to convince Senate Republicans to go along with their request to include additional funding for hospitals and state and local governments in any new stimulus package that’s aimed at adding another $250 billion into the rapidly-depleting Paycheck Protection Program. The Small Business Administration said Monday that more than 900,000 applications have been approved so far, committing a total of $221 billion to U.S. companies.