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Legislation would provide tax incentives to media companies to boost local journalism

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(The Center Square) – Saying the number of working journalists in Illinois has dramatically dropped over the past two decades, a lawmaker has introduced legislation to reverse that trend. Some question the idea.

State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, a former TV newsman, is sponsoring several ideas in an effort to prop up local news outlets. Last month, he passed out of the Senate a measure prohibiting local news organizations from selling to out-of-state buyers without 120 days written notice of the sale to the state and their employees. Opponents of that idea said it could cause a media outlet to be devalued.

Another Stadelman proposal that has stalled would set up a structure for online news outlets to negotiate with social media platforms to get compensated when someone shares a news story on their news feed.

A third measure, Senate Bill 3953, called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, would provide tax incentives for local news outlets to hire more journalists and was discussed in a Senate committee late Wednesday.

“Too many local communities no longer have a source for local news information,” said Stadelman. “That’s detrimental to the community for a number of different reasons, no one is shining the spotlight on local government covering school board and city council meetings, there is decreased political engagement, it’s not good for democracy.”

Stadelman said a third of local newspapers in Illinois have folded during the past 20 years, and there has been an 85% reduction in newsroom employees.

During a Senate Revenue Committee hearing, state Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said he supported the idea generally, but had some concerns.

“I agree with the importance of a robust and independent Fourth Estate, it’s crucial for the perseveration of Democracy,” Martwick said. “So my question is this: Do we lose that independence when we start subsidizing journalism?”

Martwick questioned what happens if government gives tax credits to outlets that report on what’s happening while also publishing opinions some in government may not favor.

“We giveth. We can taketh away,” Martwick said.

Martwick also raised concerns about whether the state could help fund a media outlet that provides questionable content.

“I would want to make sure that we are careful not to be offering subsidies to newspapers that are basically political propaganda,” said Martwick.

According to research at Northwestern, about 100 Illinois counties have no local source for news, and 33 rely on just a single source.

SB3953 was discussed in a subject matter hearing, but has not advanced.

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