(New York, NY) — PEN America joined more than a dozen media and press freedom organizations in urging Congress to include support for local journalism in the federal infrastructure package. The letter is cosigned by the Rebuild Local News coalition, NewsGuild/CWA, National Newspaper Publishers Association, and 13 other organizations. 

The joint letter asserts that diverse local journalism is a critical pillar of democracy and that American communities would suffer if it is not considered as such in this legislation. The signatories write in the letter that “the infrastructure bill is called the ‘American Jobs Plan.’ Supporting local news preserves jobs, to be sure. But it is more than that, as it will also help local communities thrive and democracy endure.”

“As our nation’s local journalism industry hangs in the balance, we cannot afford to overlook civic infrastructure in this bill, especially if we are committed to inclusivity and supporting the communities disproportionately affected by the industry’s collapse,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs. “The spaces where local news outlets have disappeared are, as the letter states, ‘vacuums’ being filled by ‘social media, partisan hyperbole, and harmful disinformation’. PEN America stands with our fellow signatories in urging Congress to recognize local news media as a critical pillar of our democracy. Safeguarding local journalism is a key element of protecting our communities from harmful information voids.”

This letter was released on the heels of the introduction of the Future of Local News Act, which would establish a committee of thirteen media experts to examine the decline of local journalism and assess solutions to revitalize the industry. Together, this act and the infrastructure bill provide a pivotal opportunity to strengthen the country’s information architecture while solidifying the nation’s free and robust press. PEN America calls on Congressional leaders and the Biden-Harris administration to include the establishment of this committee within the final infrastructure package. 

“Roads and bridges are only one dimension of a democracy’s critical infrastructure,” said Dokhi Fassihian, interim Washington director of PEN America. “Investments in informational infrastructure, which give Americans access to shared and reliable facts, are also essential to preserving a nation of informed citizens that are able to effectively self-govern. As the global information landscape becomes increasingly fractured and destabilized, the U.S. must make every effort possible to strengthen its democratic foundations. Investing in local news infrastructure is critical to that effort.”

PEN America has long stood for press freedom and a reinvigoration of local journalism. In 2019 the organization released a landmark report, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions. This year PEN America launched a series highlighting local journalists, Keeping it Local as part of its World Press Freedom Day campaign. PEN America’s  Press Freedom Incentive Fund provides financial support for initiatives that mobilize communities to demand an independent and robust local press.