(Washington, D.C.) – PEN America today welcomed news that Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) has introduced the Future of Local News Commission Act of 2020, which would establish a federal advisory commission to study the decline of local news and recommend solutions for the industry’s revival. The bill closely mirrors recommendations PEN America made late last year in its seminal report on the crisis facing local news.

PEN America congratulates Sen. Schatz, along with original co-sponsors Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), for proposing this critical legislation, and hopes that Congress will promptly move forward to create the commission. 

“Establishing a federal commission on local news is a crucial step towards building a bipartisan commitment to a diverse, free, and sustainable press, which is foundational to ensuring all members of our democracy are well-informed citizens,” said Thomas O. Melia, Washington director of PEN America. “Never has there been a more important moment for Congress to commit itself to resolving the crisis facing local journalism. Now is the time to speak up for local news and to find solutions for the sector’s recovery. PEN America welcomes Sen. Schatz’s initiative to support local journalism as a bedrock of civic engagement that holds government officials and corporations accountable.” 

In its seminal 2019 report Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions, PEN America declared that local news constitutes a fundamental building block of American democracy and should be seen as a public good critically important to sustain. The Future of Local News Commission Act of 2020 would involve stakeholders and policy-makers in a consensus-building discussion about the range of initiatives necessary to sustain local news gathering and its dissemination. 

“For decades, we’ve seen expanding news deserts, reduced coverage, mass layoffs, and outlet closure and consolidation limit the ability of reporters to meet the critical information needs of their community members,” said PEN America’s Melia. “The communities most dramatically affected tend to be the least wealthy and the least resourced, rural communities, and Native American and non-English speaking communities that have historically benefited from small-circulation papers that are fast disappearing. Now the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the demise of this sector, leaving millions of Americans without access to community-specific news in the midst of a public health crisis, economic devastation, and a fraught election season when local news is what matters most.”