(Washington, DC) – A coalition of nearly 50 organizations is calling on Congress to include vital funding for local news in the next stimulus package proposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter sent today, PEN America, alongside Free Press Action, Common Cause, and many others, say that House and Senate leadership should consider local press an industry vital to the nation’s health, prosperity, and recovery.

“Local news outlets, ranging from state- to city- and community-level media organizations, are necessary partners in meeting the critical information needs of people in the United States,” the letter reads. “Americans cannot endure an accelerated decline in access to vital information. And like other adversely affected sectors of the economy, local news cannot withstand the hardships of COVID-19 and the worsening economic crisis without federal support. We’re calling on you to include the journalism sector in the congressional assistance packages revitalizing affected industries and sustaining workers across our nation.”

Highlighting the life-or-death role local journalism plays, the letter says that journalists on the local level are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Press outlets across the local media spectrum are lowering paywalls, translating coverage, and providing critical information for readers that national outlets cannot replace. Meanwhile, the local news industry is suffering, forced to furlough employees and drastically cut print publication as ad revenue plummets. In a report published last year, PEN America showed how the shuttering of thousands of local news outlets has had a direct impact on government accountability and the public’s access to information.

“The nation’s local news outlets have proven themselves to be valiant first responders amid this pandemic,” said PEN America’s Washington director Thomas O. Melia. “Yet on top of the health risks individual reporters are taking, the sector as a whole is suffering gravely as the nationwide shutdown has accelerated their loss of revenue. We urge members of Congress to act immediately to provide a lifeline to local reporters and local media to ensure they continue providing their vital service to the American people.”

“Local media is a critical source of news and information for communities, holds our government accountable, and plays an important role in our civic engagement,” said Michael Copps, Common Cause special advisor and former FCC commissioner. “But the health crisis our nation faces combined with the long-term decline in local news has left many communities without adequate sources of trustworthy news on the pandemic and has created a void in civic information. Congress must act now to ensure local news is adequately funded in order to meet the information needs of communities.”

“We can’t get through this pandemic—or the next one—without resilient and community-centered media,” said Craig Aaron, president and co-CEO of Free Press Action. “Right now, reporters are essential workers: They’re out there tracking the spread of the disease, holding politicians and powerful institutions accountable, and highlighting the work of heroes on the front lines. But if we don’t act now, many vital newsrooms won’t make it through this crisis. We must act now to support the trustworthy and life-saving information our communities need and make significant public investments in the future of news.”

PEN America’s 2019 report laid out the vital role played by local news for communities and for democracy, and called for a significant public and private investment in the local news industry, as well as guarantees to ensure editorial independence.

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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