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It is no secret that local news organizations have been bruised and battered by the last several years of pandemic, recession, and advertising declines. Ark Valley Voice is no exception — being only an 18-months-old digital news organization when the pandemic hit. Much of the federal and foundational help to help businesses weather this has been aimed at retailers, manufacturers, local governments. But being a services category, there has been little help for news organizations, which have continued to produce news and information as part of our public service to our communities during these past dark months, even as most of our revenue disappeared.

A plan to offer federal payroll tax credits to help pay the salaries of local journalists is still in play as budget bills advance — specifically the Build Back Better bill –but it faces a giant hurdle. Today Congress is considering a bill that would pay up to $25,000 of a reporter’s salary (in a payroll tax credit) for local digital, newspaper, and broadcast outlets.

We members of the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) support this effort. AVV really doesn’t have to tell you that it would make a huge difference to so many COLab newsrooms, including ours — but we are.

Three weeks ago, the measure, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, was included in the House draft of a $3.5 trillion spending bill. Advocates hoped that the Senate would quickly follow suit. Optimism was running high. But the quick resolution didn’t happen, and the target total from the Biden administration has been cut in half to a $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill. The House late last week dropped the assistance in a new draft version acceptable to the Senate.

The proposed aid to local news, potentially costing around $1 billion, would have been tiny compared to big-ticket items like clean energy and child care. Even with bipartisan support and 78 co-sponsors, however, it fell in the category of a lesser priority when crunch time came for budget drafting.

The Senate, where the bill was late getting sponsors and has not passed, is the best hope for having the aid restored as a budget is finalized over the next several weeks.

A tax credit in the Build Back Better bill would save thousands of journalism jobs and protect local news organizations that Americans depend on. We encourage our AVV readers to reach out to our United States Senators to let Senator Michael Bennet and Senator John Hickenlooper know what this would mean to sustain rural, local newsrooms — and our critical role in sustaining democracy. As we wait on that — local news needs donations and grants. A reminder that  AVV’s NewsMatch donation effort begins on Nov. 30 and it is needed more than ever this year.