Other Opinion: Bill offers support for small newspapers


Much-needed help for small newspapers is in the works.

It not only would help those who work in the newspaper business but anyone who realizes the important role newspapers play on the local level – keeping the public informed, serving as a watchdog over government activity and providing a voice for the voiceless.

U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced legislation to help local newspapers with their printing costs as part of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The bipartisan legislation, called Preserving Readership and Information of Newspapers for Tomorrow – the PRINT Act – was introduced Wednesday, Aug. 19. Currently, local media is eligible for the PPP, but printing costs are not forgivable under the program guidelines. The act would change that.

Kudos to the lawmakers who realize that a free press is critical to our democracy.


Peterson framed the issue well: "We rely on local newspapers for information about what the city council and county boards are doing, the births, deaths and weddings, what’s happening at school, who’s running for office, and how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting our lives,” he said in a news release about the PRINT Act. “COVID-19 has made the already vital role of local news even more critical, at a time when many small businesses are struggling to keep the doors open. The PRINT Act will help our small and rural newspapers to continue their important work informing our communities.”

Johnson explained what’s at stake in his state: “Our local news teams work day in and day out to keep South Dakotans informed of what’s happening both locally and nationally,” he said. “Unfortunately, local media hasn’t been immune from the financial impact of COVID-19. A slowdown of advertisements and subsequent layoffs continue to threaten our ability to maintain a free press, the PRINT Act will help alleviate some of the burden our print shops are facing.”

Newspapers have long been reluctant to seek government help because they don’t want to appear beholding to anyone even though businesses in every sector of society routinely take advantage of government loopholes and tax breaks that benefit them. These are extraordinary times for newspapers. The PRINT Act recognizes that situation and addresses it.

When interviewed in a media call with the Forum News Service, Peterson said he had a long phone call with small newspapers in his district a couple of weeks ago and understands the tough spot they are in: “A lot of them aren’t going to survive if we don’t get some kind of help to them because their advertising is completely dried up,” Peterson told Fargo-Moorhead area business leaders last week.

Minnesota Newspaper Association President Chris Knight said the state's newspapers are “severely challenged in their efforts to produce reliable local news and advertising products during this COVID-19 pandemic… Allowing PPP funds to help cover production costs would go a long way to keep our local newspapers producing their essential publications,” Knight added.

Matthew Adelman, president of the National Newspaper Association said that keeping newspapers going during the pandemic is an essential service.

“Second only to staffing costs are production expenses – printing, ink, paper and the contracts associated with getting the paper out,” Adelman said. “Allowing community newspapers that still have PPP dollars through the end of the year to spend their money on printing would help our local newspapers to survive.”

Congress should act promptly to approve the PRINT Act. It’s a lifeline for small newspapers and for keeping the public informed.

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