Fighting for our local papers

May 1, 2021


On May 7 of last year, the Hastings (Minnesota) Star Gazette printed its last issue. The paper’s first issue as The Hastings Independent was published in 1857, a year before Minnesota gained statehood. Generations relied on papers like this for local news — they told you who was born and who died, whose daughter just broke the county record for the 400-meter freestyle, whose Holstein won a surprise ribbon at the State Fair and how your local leaders voted.

My dad was a Minnesota newspaper columnist and sports reporter. Even though he worked his way up the ranks to interview everyone from Mike Ditka to Ronald Reagan to Ginger Rogers, he was always, as his managing editor put it, “a champion of those on the outside.”

But today, newspapers of all sizes are struggling and closing.

The shuttering of the Star Gazette was helped along by the coronavirus pandemic, but long-term trends in newspaper ad revenue show that the Star Gazette and many local papers like it were already on their last legs when COVID-19 struck.

Ad revenue for U.S. newspapers plummeted from $37.8 billion in 2008 to $14.3 billion in 2018. During that time, two other companies, Facebook and Google — worth over $2.2 trillion combined — became advertising titans.

These two companies don’t just control the majority of online advertising; they’ve built power over the news, crushing local outlets along the way. It saddens me to think my dad might not have a job in today’s tech-dominated world, let alone a chance to interview a U.S. president.

In rural and small-town communities across America, we are seeing the impacts of this consolidation first hand — expanding “news deserts” where local coverage is increasingly difficult to come by.

We can’t stand by and watch this happen to our independent press. That’s why I have introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) and Reps. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and Ken Buck (R-Colorado) to let news publishers join together to get fair terms with these digital titans. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will level the playing field for the entire industry — not just a few publishers — by empowering local media outlets to make deals that ensure fair treatment.

By giving independent papers the chance to compete, our bill will also give them the power to demand deserved revenue so that they can invest in quality reporting — ensuring that hardworking reporters can continue to inform their communities.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is a way we can turn the tide on this unprecedented threat to fair and honest competition. It will help America maintain access to the trustworthy local reporting that is the bedrock of our communities.