Group calls for increased military ad spending in local newspapers

Tonda Rush

Dec 1, 2020

A bipartisan group of members of the House and Senate Armed Service committees is calling upon the Congress to require the military to direct more of its advertising into local newspapers and broadcasting outlets.

The National Defense Authorization Act legislation, which provides legal authority for Defense Department and other federal government defense and intelligence activities, includes provisions advising the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take a harder look at local advertising.

The NDAA, which usually is among the earliest bills passed by Congress in its sessions, has been stalled this year because of disputes over the naming of military installations for Confederate military officers. Congress is expected to include the NDAA in its year-end legislation.

In a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Service committees, a group led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and joined by Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, and others, said they were pleased with bipartisan language included in both bills encouraging each of the branches of the military to use local media sources in DOD ads.

Out of the roughly $1 billion that is spent by the federal government on advertising and other marketing, the DOD is responsible for nearly two-thirds of these expenditures, they said. It urged the Pentagon to consider the value of local news outlets in choosing their advertising media.

“News publishers and local broadcasters have continued to provide crucial information throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping individuals and families connected to their communities and their country, and providing critical public health information. And yet, few industries have been harder hit financially than local media due a steep decline in advertising revenue from local businesses. In many markets, the loss of advertising revenue from local businesses has exceeded 30%, and in some cases more than 50% compared to this time last year. Unfortunately, many of these local media organizations have not been able to receive assistance from the federal government that will help extend the runway during the COVID-19 crisis. Without assistance, the long-term financial stability of local journalism in the U.S. is at risk,” the letter said.

NNA Chair Brett Wesner, president of Wesner Publications, Cordell, Oklahoma, said marketing the value of local newspapers to federal agencies is among NNA’s top priorities in 2020-21. NNA works with the News Media Alliance and National Association of Broadcasters to get the federal government to change its focus.

“Too much of this federal spending is going into social media and other outlets that are not as trusted, valued and essential to communities as local newspapers,” Wesner said. “We are learning that newspapers may not be the media of choice because public policy heads in Washington think we are no longer on the mission of covering the news. That is wrong, of course, and we are redoubling our efforts to remind them that we are here and we are doing our jobs. Local newspapers are the best at getting the word out,” he said.

Tonda Rush is the director of public policy and serves as general counsel to the National Newspaper Association. Email her at