Opinion: Answering the call to save local news in New York

Since 2004, New York has lost nearly half of its local newspapers. The bipartisan Local Journalism Sustainability Act will ensure New Yorkers have access to the independent local news they deserve.

Multiple local news outlets serve New York City, but many other parts of the state are local news deserts.

Multiple local news outlets serve New York City, but many other parts of the state are local news deserts. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Local newspapers have shaped American life for centuries. From reporting on school board meetings and new business openings to in-depth investigations of elected officials, local journalists cover the issues that matter most to their communities. Local newspapers, both print and online, are the glue that holds our communities together. At a time when we can’t seem to agree on anything, there remains widespread consensus that local news and local stories matter. 

But this central facet of our lives is fading. Industry challenges have forced hundreds of newspapers in New York to shutter over the past two decades, leaving countless communities alienated and without a voice. If these trends continue, there will soon come a time when there will be no local newspapers at all.

That’s why I am proud to sponsor the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (S.625C),  a groundbreaking piece of legislation designed to ensure a thriving future for local news. This bipartisan bill offers tax credits to news outlets for the employment of local journalists, ensuring that New Yorkers have access to the quality, independent local news they deserve. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act incentivizes outlets not only to preserve but also to add jobs, returning reporters to many of the state's emptying newsrooms and opening the door for more diverse and inclusive coverage.

Thanks to the advocacy of the Empire State Local News Coalition, a newly formed group of over 150 hometown newspapers across New York, this critical legislation was included in the state Senate's recently proposed one-house budget, ensuring the bill will be part of final negotiations over the state’s fiscal plan. If enacted, this legislation would be the first of its kind in the nation, offering a replicable blueprint for other states across the country to invest in the long-term sustainability of local news. 

For too long, we've witnessed the steady erosion of local news outlets across our state without intervening. Since 2004, New York has lost half of its newspapers; in 2022 alone, more than 30 papers shuttered. This directly translates to thousands of jobs completely erased that journalists and their families once depended on. A quarter of New York counties are now news deserts – down to their last local newspaper, or without one at all – and the stories of people and communities are increasingly not being told.

This decline of local news is a pressing threat to our democracy. Studies have shown that as communities lose their local news source, polarization increases, voter turnout dwindles, transparency wanes and municipal borrowing costs soar – creating an environment ripe for waste, fraud and abuse, and burdening residents with higher taxes. Investing in local news sources is a critical step toward reducing the division and polarization that engulfs our nation. After all, both Democrats and Republicans cheer for their town's high school football team and attend their local church's bakesale – two items covered by a local newspaper, but often no one else.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act is sound public policy that will help local daily and weekly newspapers, as well as television and radio stations, to continue to inform and uplift New Yorkers and the places they live and work.

I urge my colleagues to seize this opportunity to safeguard the hometown newspapers that New Yorkers depend on. We must pass the Local Journalism Sustainability Act now and finally reverse the tide of shuttering newspapers across our state.  With broad, bipartisan support in the Senate and Assembly, Gov. Kathy Hochul now has the chance to deliver on her commitment to transparency and accountability by championing its inclusion in the final state budget. We urge the governor to answer the call voiced by communities and newsrooms alike across the state and to include the Local Journalism Sustainability Act in this year's state budget.