Since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the federal government has acknowledged that the press is an institution which is afforded special protections by name. Yet, newspapers across the country are closing down or facing bankruptcy at an alarming rate. Among them are The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and The Rocky Mountain News, Unless something is done soon, it is possible that many metropolitan regions may have no local daily newspapers.
The plight of the newspaper industry has been punctuated by substantial job losses, downsizing at various bureaus, and the halting of either printed editions or business-wide operations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, newspaper publishers cut nearly 50,000 jobs between June 2008 and June 2009, a record rate of job cuts representing 15 percent of its workforce.
In response, I have introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act, H.R. 3602, to help community and metropolitan papers by allowing them to become non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations similar to public broadcasting. The bill is the companion legislation to S. 673 which was introduced by Senator Cardin (D-MD). Non-profit status would be a voluntary option for newspapers and a way for a community or foundation to step in and preserve their local paper.
Technological change has created structural challenges for newspapers which were reliant on subscription and classified revenues to cover operating costs. In addition, the current recession has eroded advertising revenues substantially. Between 2006 and 2008, ad revenues declined 23 percent, from $49.3 billion to $38 billion, and are expected to fall further during 2009. With the state of the current newspaper model, dependent on advertising and circulation revenue, it will be difficult for newspapers to maintain and produce high-quality news without bold changes. My bill is an important first step.