Local Newspaper Support Bill Dies in Richmond

A local journalism support bill introduced in the Virginia State Legislature this session by State Del. Alfonso Lopez has died. HB 1217 would have provided up to $5 million annually in income tax credits to news organizations that employ local journalists and up to $10 million annually in income tax credits to businesses that advertise with these outlets.

The Lopez bill died by failing to pass out of a finance subcommittee meeting, with six Republicans voting against and three Democrats voting for. Lopez says he will continue pushing the measure in future sessions until he can get it passed.

The bill would encourage ad revenue in local papers, which pays the salaries of local journalists, according to Lopez. It’s also good for democracy, he said, as areas without local coverage tend to have more government and small business corruption and see lower local election turnout.

Lopez, whose district covers the Seven Corners/Cullmore District adjacent the City of Falls Church, modeled his bill on the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. It came from the Rebuild Local News coalition, coordinated by Steve Waldman, the founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.

While new media forms — including online-only and nonprofit outlets — have risen from the ashes of defunct papers, they’re not ubiquitous enough to counteract the decline triggered by ad revenue losses and exacerbated by hedge fund acquisitions, according to Waldman.

A bright spot for newspapers from this year’s legislative session in Richmond: they still benefit exclusively from state legal notice laws that require ads in a print newspaper of general circulation.