Trust in mainstream media is at an all-time low and diverse and local media are facing an existential threat to their survival. In these dark times of economic downturn, social isolation, and political uncertainty, this is a huge problem with dire implications. But what’s more alarming is that despite the real and present danger this poses to our fragile democracy, the issue is seemingly being ignored by Congress, by the business community, and by civic and local leaders.
Reliable and readily accessible diverse and local news and information is more than just a public good. It has been widely recognized by state and local governments during this COVID-19 crisis as an essential service. Local communities need to have access to trusted news outlets for critical and often life-saving information. This is especially true for marginalized communities who (1) rely on diverse and local news sources to get trusted information about vital health and safety precautions and available public benefits, and (2) would otherwise be without a watchdog for local government and business accountability and without awareness of the social, economic and political events controlling their lives. Diverse and local media has served in many cases as the only trusted source for information on testing, hospital capacity, business closures, and operating hours for essential services.
Local and diverse news advocacy organizations such as the Rebuild Local News Coalition, News Media Alliance, andMulticultural Media & Correspondents Association (MMCA) are mounting grassroots and grasstops advocacy efforts to save diverse and local media and are also gearing up for a major advocacy push on Capitol Hill. While our efforts are gaining traction, this is only the beginning. We now need more policymakers, business, and civic leaders, and advocacy organizations to join the effort and work with us to develop consensus-based solutions to ensure that diverse and local media make it through and emerge stronger post COVID-19.
For our part, MMCA is issuing a call to action for Corporate America and the public to provide greater support of local and diverse media with donations, subscriptions and joining our advocacy effort. This is both our civic responsibility as good corporate and individual citizens, and a great and necessary investment to avoid the social and business disruption that would result from the resulting destabilization of our democracy. We further urge Congress to provide tax and other subsidies to incentivize these efforts. For example, we urge Congress to provide all taxpayers with a $250 tax credit to offset the cost of purchasing a subscription to a “local or diverse news source” and provide small businesses with a $2,500 tax credit to buy local advertising.
It is past time to get serious and stop overlooking the critical need for diverse and local media to help people better understand the complex world in which we live. Stories told with a local lens – and with cultural competency – can help to break down walls of prejudice and ignorance, and help regulate some of our undemocratic tendencies. We urge you to join our fight. The many publishers and other media stakeholders of color in our network that are desperately trying to stay afloat while continuing to provide critically needed COVID-19 related information to their communities would be beneficiaries of our efforts. So will the voiceless communities that rely on local and diverse media to be heard and for someone to speak truth to power. “For when we hear the cries in their words and see their wounds, we are compelled to act.”