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Since his election, congressional reporters have been chasing George Santos around Capitol Hill. National reporters have been eager to expose the blatant and bizarre lies about his life story, career, education, animal charity and campaign funds. The story has been dominating national headlines, but it was a local journalist, Maureen Daly with The North Shore Leader in Long Island, New York, who first broke the story months before the 2022 election.
Local journalism is at the heart of a strong democracy. Journalists hold lying leaders like Santos accountable and keep the public informed. At a moment marked by countless crises and the pervasiveness of lies and misinformation, local journalism is needed now more than ever.
While reporters are chasing down Santos throughout the halls of Congress, our statehouses and city halls feel emptier. The number of statehouse reporters fell by a third, so that, by 2014, only 30% of newspapers had a reporter covering the state legislature.
Between 2008 and 2018, the news industry experienced a staggering 68% decline in its advertising dollars, its primary source of funding. In that same time period, newspapers saw a 47% decline in employment. The slight increase in digital advertising revenues hasn’t compensated for rapidly declining revenue from print advertisements. The rise of media giants like Facebook and Google has made it nearly impossible for local news outlets to compete for advertising dollars.
Now, the United States is averaging two newspaper closures per week, and experts predict our country will lose a third of its newspapers by 2025. Here in Maryland, centuries-old newspapers like the Montgomery County Sentinel have ceased operations, while other publications have struggled to stay afloat.
The loss in revenues for local journalism threatens to turn the lights off in local newsrooms across the state and country.
That’s why I’ve introduced a bill to stimulate advertising in newspapers and revitalize local news outlets. The solution proposed in House Bill 540 is straightforward: Small businesses will receive a tax credit of up to $3,000 to refund advertising expenditures in local newspapers.
It’s a win-win. Small businesses gain exposure as they continue recovering from the pandemic, while newspapers receive desperately needed revenue from advertising.
As we continue to reckon with the fragility of our democracy, we must work to preserve a free, open and thriving press. When we invest in our newspapers and double down on our commitment to truth and accountability, we can stop the next George Santos and defend our imperiled democracy.
Delegate Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates' Ways & Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax credit programs.