Pa.’s Casey, 18 senators call for funding to support local journalism in next pandemic relief bill

    U.S. Sen. Bob Casey questions witnesses at the Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing Feb. 12 (Screen Capture).

    Pennsylvania’s senior United States senator has joined with colleagues across the country to call for support for local journalism to be included in any future COVID-19 relief package that comes before Congress.

    Congress is already mulling a fourth package, and Democrats on Capitol Hill have already begin to signal their priorities.

    In a Wednesday letter to Senate leadership, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, 17 fellow Democratic senators, and one independent senator, said the industry, which is being hit by plummeting advertising revenue, could be “[decimated] even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their reporting amidst the public health crisis. Already news outlets have laid off or furloughed staff, and some newspapers have reduced or eliminated print editions.”

    News organizations in Pennsylvania have similarly announced staff reductions or slashed working hours and pay in response to the reverberations across the national economy.

    “The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical,” the senators wrote in their letter. “Some of the most important guidance for families and businesses during this crisis has been highly localized. Local journalism has been providing communities answers to critical questions, including information on where to get locally tested, hospital capacity, road closures, essential business hours of operation, and shelter-in-place orders. During this unprecedented public health crisis, people need to have access to their trusted local news outlets for this reliable and sometimes life-saving information.”

    Even though journalists have been deemed essential workers by state governors, the “The sector as a whole is suffering gravely as the nationwide shutdown has accelerated their loss of revenue,” Thomas O. Melia., the Washington director of PEN America, an industry trade group, said.

    The reductions at news outlets have come even as reader interest has risen, pushing an increase in traffic to news websites, Lisa Macpherson, a senior policy fellow at Public Knowledge, a Washington D.C.-based public interest group, said in a statement.

    “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,” Macpherson said. “Local news stories are now among the most viewed stories in the country – even as local media fight to survive the pandemic. 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.”

    In addition to Casey, the letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.,; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Mazie K. Hirono, D-HI.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Cory Booker, D-N.H.; Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.; Angus King, I-Maine; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio;  Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc, and and Joe Manchin, D-W.V

    John L. Micek
    John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.