U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan wants to make sure local media have access to federal bailout dollars.
“Due to the unprecedented public health crisis and the resulting economic challenges facing our country, many news organizations are on the brink of collapse,” he wrote in a letter to congressional leadership.
“Unfortunately, just as media outlets are working to provide the public with key resources and information about the deadly coronavirus, many are being forced to scale back, furlough or lay off employees.”
The Sarasota Republican said it’s critical news outlets can take advantage of economic relief like the CARES Act, a rescue package passed by Congress.
In Florida’s 16th Congressional District, a number of major media outlets have announced furloughs or layoffs. Bradenton Herald owner McClatchy announced furloughs, as did Sarasota Herald-Tribune owner Gannett. The Tampa Bay Times laid off 11 journalists in the midst of the pandemic, though had been considering layoffs even before the coronavirus bore down on the economy. It cut its print edition to just two days a week, directly attributed to revenue losses related to the virus.
“I am urging you to consider including much-needed relief for local journalism as a part of future economic response packages,” Buchanan wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Congress should start by putting aside the partisan games and provide additional funding for the federal government’s newly-created small business lending program, which is rapidly running out of money, and clarify that local media and news organizations qualify for these loans.”
He alluded to a request from the News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association and America’s Newspapers asking that eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program be determined at the local publisher or station level, rather than the corporate level.
That would treat individual newspapers the same way restaurant chains can qualify for benefits for each location. Buchanan endorsed offering the same treatment to media.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, news organizations, particularly smaller ones, are heavily reliant on local advertisers to stay in business,” Buchanan wrote. “However, due to the nationwide closure of non-essential businesses and Americans staying at home to protect themselves and the public, many businesses have ceased advertising or closed down altogether.
“Combined with the economic impact of nearly 70% of all digital advertising dollars going to just a few tech companies, it’s easy to understand why the local news industry is suffering right now.”
This isn’t the first time Buchanan has made special mention of journalists providing important work during the pandemic.
Last week, he tweeted about the economic challenges the media face.
“As some media outlets in our district reduce or furlough employees due to COVID-19, I want to express my appreciation for all they do to keep people informed,” he posted. “The press plays a unique role in helping all of us follow safety protocols. Thank you!”
Also noteworthy is that the media love comes as Buchanan faces one of the more competitive Congressional races in Florida this year, where state Rep. Margaret Good is challenging his reelection.