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Why print journalism enterprises, or other journalism forms, deserve taxpayer bailouts like this is beyond me.

Over 2,200 newspapers in the United States have closed in the past 15 years.

Circulation has declined drastically. Pay has been cut. Advertising revenue has plunged. Newsroom employment has plummeted.

It's a grim picture. But the newspaper industry and some members of Congress think they have found a solution — a federal taxpayer bailout.

This is the wrong solution. And, frankly, it's embarrassing.

Americana's journalism industry, which until now has prided itself on its independence, got a tax break in the Build Back Better bill passed by the House on Nov. 19.

The bill would provide a payroll tax credit for companies that employ eligible local journalists. The measure would allow newspapers, digital news outlets, and radio and television stations to claim a tax credit of $25,000 the first year and $15,000 the next four years for each of up to 1,500 journalists.

The theory is this would incentivize some publishers to hire or retain local reporters. The projected cost of putting journalism outlets on the public dole — $1.7 billion over the next five years, with an estimated $38 million of that injected into approximately 113 newsrooms in Oregon.

Supporters say there will be guardrails to prevent the tax breaks from going to partisan or fake-news sites. Good luck. The battles over eligibility will be never-ending.

I'm a former newspaper reporter and I recognize that the struggles of local print news are undeniable, but why print journalism enterprises, or other journalism forms, deserve taxpayer bailouts like this is beyond me.

Some tax credit supporters argue that government support for media goes back a long way, that the two have always been joined at the hip, so this new idea just continues long-established practices. The latest help is the pandemic-related small business loan program, for example, which provided millions to news organizations.

Fundamentally, this argument is that print media already get subsidies so they should get more. A dubious argument.

Media figures also argue that the Build Back Better subsidies will only be temporary anyway. But let's be honest. When was the last time you saw a government subsidy discontinued?

It's a given that when the subsidy ends in five years, newspaper publishers and others raking in the subsidies will be back in Congress hat in hand seeking an extension.

It's also doubtful that the government should subsidize already well-off newspapers. One of the vocal tax-break supporters is The Washington Post, owned by tech billionaire Jeff Bezos since 2013.

According to Americans for Tax Reform, if the tax break becomes law, Gannett, one of the nation's largest remaining newspaper chains, could gain as much as $127.5 million in tax benefits over five years.

And why should the government give breaks to papers owned by super-rich hedge funds.

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital, for example, is one of the country's largest newspaper owners. It has been buying up newspapers, imposing draconian cost cuts, and implementing widespread layoffs. Its current target is the local newspaper chain Lee Enterprises, whose Oregon titles include the Albany Democrat-Herald, the Corvallis Gazette-Times and the Lebanon Express.

Local print newspapers have been a key element of our civic life for generations, but Build Back Better's tax breaks are not the solution to the challenges they face.

Bill MacKenzie is a Lake Oswego resident.


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