California State Senator Ben Allen (D-Beverly Hills) and two of his colleagues have proposed a bill designed to support the state’s flagging local journalism industry. The measure, Senate Bill 911, would establish a state board that would distribute grants to individuals and organizations covering community news.
“Free and rigorous journalism is essential for a functioning democracy,” Allen told the Courier. “It inspires action and accountability where it might otherwise be lacking, and the less we invest in good journalism as a society the greater the risk to good government and transparency.”
The bill would create the California Board for the Funding of Public Interest Media, an 11-member board consisting of representatives of the media and the public. The board, which would be appointed by the legislature and governor, would distribute funds only to applicants who agreed to increase coverage of local affairs and share reporting in the public domain for use by other media.
The board would include representatives from at least one “ethnic media publication,” one non-profit media organization, publishers from outlets of varying sizes, one online service, three members of the public, and one public interest group.
The board would be barred from exercising editorial judgment, but would be empowered to ensure that grantees spent funds as agreed to.
The bill proposes vesting the board with $50 million to hand out over a 5-year trial period.
Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa), who co-authored the bill along with Allen and Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), said that the bill is meant to address the decline in local news over the last several decades.
“A vibrant local press that informs the public and acts as a government watchdog has been vital to the survival of American democracy,” Glazer said in a statement announcing the bill. “But over the past couple decades, the closure of many local newspapers and the decline of most others has created vast ‘news deserts’ where virtually no local coverage remains. This bill will offer news organizations and individuals the tools to revive the oversight function of the local press.”
Highlighting the dire trend in journalism, Newman said that a quarter of local newspapers have disappeared over the last decade and a half.
“It’s my firm belief that there is no substitute for the kind of strong local journalism which informs and engages the public, improves the decision-making and accountability of local and state government, and serves as a primary source of information for our communities,” Newman said in a statement.