(New York, NY) – PEN America today led a coalition of local news and press freedom organizations to send letters to governors in all 50 states, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C., urging government leaders to include emergency funding for local news in their coronavirus relief efforts. 

PEN America led the coalition effort, alongside Free Press and Common Cause, and it builds on PEN America’s advocacy on Capitol Hill urging Congress to include coronavirus stimulus funds for local news. Forty states have recognized  the news media as an essential service, and the coalition urges all governors and political leaders to provide emergency coronavirus funds at the state-level to help bolster the industry at a time when local outlets are suffering financially.

“Local news outlets, ranging from state- to city- and community-level media organizations, are necessary partners in meeting the crucial information needs of people in the United States — especially during today’s public health and economic crises,” the letters read. “However, COVID-19’s devastating economic impact on local news outlets is threatening their ability to function at all. Over the past two weeks, in the face of plummeting ad revenue, dozens of local publications across the country — from the largest chains to successful nonprofit and community outlets to tribal media and family-owned newspapers — have furloughed or laid off their reporters, reduced their publication frequency, or dropped their print editions altogether. In an industry that employs more than 80,000 people nationwide, many outlets are now struggling to cover even half of their reporters’ salaries, with newsroom layoffs increasing across the country.”

The 51 letters say that local news is essential to informing communities, and especially to informing vulnerable populations likely to be affected by the pandemic. This includes people of color as well as people living in low income communities. For instance, a local news outlet in California responded to listener demand by shifting its reporting to cover the coronavirus and broadcasting in Spanish to better serve the immigrant population. [Click here to view all 51 letters]

“As local reporters and outlets have stepped up to provide credible and critical information to communities during the pandemic, so too must state leaders rise to the occasion to support these essential services,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs. “Local news is not a luxury, it is a public good. We urge state governments to act immediately to provide an immediate lifeline to local media.”

In 2019, PEN America released the report “Losing the News” which laid out the vital role played by local news for communities and for democracy, and called for a significant public and private investment in local news, as well as guarantees to ensure editorial independence. Learn more about PEN America’s advocacy efforts to support local news and the group’s spotlight series on journalists covering the pandemic.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892