(Washington, D.C.) — PEN America welcomes Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Marc Veasey’s (D-TX) introduction of the Future of Local News Act, which would establish a committee of 13 members to examine the decline of local journalism and assess potential means of supporting the revitalization of the industry. 

PEN America calls on members of the Senate and House to join this vital piece of legislation, and thanks Sen. Schatz, Rep. Veasey, as well as cosponsors Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) for their efforts to support the U.S. local news industry. 

“The Future of Local News Act is a vital step in ensuring that the local news industry in the United States remains robust, diverse, and responsive to the needs of our nation’s local communities,” said Dokhi Fassihian, interim Washington director at PEN America. “The loss of local journalism for everyday Americans has been accompanied by a decline in government accountability, civic engagement, and, in the context of the pandemic, access to essential health and community information. We urge members of Congress to join this legislation to identify solutions that will revitalize the local news ecosystem as an essential facet of our nation’s democracy.”

The collapse of the advertising model for local news, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has created an extinction-level threat for many local media outlets around the country. This has created an information vacuum at the same time as disinformation is spreading rapidly, risking deepening political polarization. In 2019, PEN America published a seminal report, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions, calling for action to stem this crisis. Since the report’s publication, the pandemic has accelerated the collapse of the industry—adding more than 70 news outlets to the over 2,100 shuttered since 2004. With a quarter of U.S. newspapers now closed, millions of people are now without access to critical information resources.

As outlined in the bill, the committee would assemble a group of industry experts to build bipartisan consensus around comprehensive policy recommendations for lawmakers, including an analysis of existing legislative proposals. Moreover, the committee would play a critical role in ensuring that any legislation intending to support the industry would protect journalism’s independence from government sway or influence. 

“As the country reconciles with the effects of the pandemic and increasing political polarization, we must make investments in informational infrastructure that both unites and informs us,” said PEN America’s Fassihian. “Access to fact-based information about the world and communities we live in is foundational to our democratic infrastructure. We hope that Congress will ensure the speedy passage of this legislation.”