WASHINGTON (WAVY) —  Virginia senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined colleagues in a letter calling for funding to support local journalism and media to be included in any future COVID-19 relief packages.

“The current public health crisis has made the already vital role of local news even more critical,” wrote the senators. 

The senators warn that the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes impacts advertising funds and profits, could destroy regional and local news outlets. This is happening even as communities have become increasingly reliant on their news reporting during the public health crisis. 

“Local news is in a state of crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators wrote. “For over a decade, there has been a steady succession of local outlets closing down, reporters being laid off, production schedules cut, and resources tightened as the growth of social media and technology platforms has concentrated critical advertising revenue in the hands of a few. But the current public health crisis has made this problem worse. As many communities have shut down local restaurants, entertainment venues, and other non-essential businesses in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” local papers and local broadcasters have lost even more of the advertising revenue they rely on from these businesses. Communities across the country have seen the further decimation of this important industry as local publications have stopped printing and laid off staff in the last few weeks.

Many Virginia newspapers have implemented pay staff cuts and furloughed staff to deal with the financial impact of the spread of the coronavirus. 

Lee Enterprises Inc., which owns several major papers across the state such as the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Daily Progress in Charlottesville, said employees will have to take a pay cut or furlough equivalent of two weeks pay.

Gannett Co. Inc., which also owns several Virginia papers including the News Leader in Staunton, announced employees who make more than $38,000 a year must take a week of leave on a rotating basis.

“Local journalists have proven themselves to be valiant first responders during this pandemic, exposing themselves to a dangerous virus in order to get the story to the people,” said PEN America’s Washington director, Thomas O. Melia. “They are ‘essential workers’ as many executive orders on staying at home at the state and local level have explicitly noted. The sector as a whole is suffering gravely as the nationwide shutdown has accelerated their loss of revenue. This is why we at PEN America support Senator Blumenthal’s initiative to urge Senate leaders to include specific targeted stimulus relief for local journalism at this critical time.”

The letter was addressed to Senate leadership and the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. In addition to Kaine and Warner, it was led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and signed by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

To view the full letter calling for funding to support local journalism and media click here.

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