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Friday, September 29, 2023
Sept. 29, 2023

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In Our View: Local news plays important role in democracy

The Columbian

It is not a coincidence that we choose this, Election Day, to write about journalism. Since America’s founding, newspapers have been essential for keeping members of the public informed about the world around them, their government and the very pillars of democracy.

No less an expert than Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

There is an inextricable link between democracy and reliable media, a link of which we are mindful as citizens turn in their ballots. Today is Washington’s primary election, with ballots being due by 8 p.m. As an old axiom goes, you get the government you deserve; that is no more true than when large segments of eligible voters choose not to participate.

Equally important, however, is for those voters to be well informed. Clark County is fortunate to have a local newspaper that is owned by a local family and is committed to local news rather than profits for far-away owners and stockholders; many communities throughout the United States are not so lucky.

With vast numbers of newspapers throughout the country closing or slashing their newsroom staff — and therefore their news-gathering capabilities — it is difficult for the public to glean information about local government, candidates and issues. Various studies have indicated that a lack of local news leads to increased government corruption, lower voter turnout and fewer candidates running for office.

Because of that, Congress should support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The bipartisan bill, which is making its way through Congress, will help newspapers better fulfill their civic duty by allowing news organizations to band together and negotiate with large tech companies for the use of news content.

Under current laws, companies such as Google and Facebook are allowed to publish news articles that are the fruit of others’ labor. A newspaper does the work of reporting and writing the news, but tech companies and social media reap the benefits of viewers and the advertisers who follow them.

According to the California News Publishers Association, for every dollar made in digital advertising, tech companies receive 70 cents while the publishers who did the work receive 30 cents. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would help rectify this inequity and would help preserve the vitality of local reporting. Similar laws have been passed in Australia, Canada and Europe, defending the people who actually do the work of informing the public.

At the same time, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act in the House has 73 co-sponsors. Nine Washington representatives — including Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground — have signed on, reflecting the vital importance of journalism that informs the public and nourishes our nation.

Sustaining local journalism is essential to our American way of life. It is inseparable from our democracy, which depends on factual reporting and an entity that will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

As voters finalize their ballots today and officials throughout Washington begin counting those ballots, we celebrate American democracy. And we urge congressional representatives to recognize the important role local news plays in that democracy.