THE PRESS IS ESSENTIAL FOR DEMOCRACY
Del. Sam Rasoul has watched as Virginia’s communities miss out on crucial government updates simply because their news outlets can’t afford to cover them. Sam will use his office to advocate for local journalism and lobby for legislation that uplifts this important profession.
Former president Donald Trump relentlessly labeled legitimate and important news as “fake.” Over the last five years, Trump consistently eroded public trust in even the nation’s most accurate and prestigious news providers when the events of the day didn’t fit his political playbook.
Trump’s incessant hammering, coupled with fierce competition from free sites on the Internet, drove news gathering companies to downsize their staffs, sell their presses and in some cases, go out of business.
To make matters worse, billionaire investors wait until family-owned news outlets are strapped for cash and desperate to sell. Once purchased, investors liquidate their assets and incrementally lay off senior staff to squeeze every penny out of these prestigious news establishments.
Among the newspapers under intense pressure is The Roanoke Times, where 25 percent of the newsroom staff has been let go since 2020. Local and regional news, the bedrock of the community, has taken a direct hit. The result is that residents are less informed about their schools, crime, healthcare, religion and the environment.
Reporters increasingly have a tough time accessing public information as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions are enacted by the General Assembly. High fees associated with obtaining these documents make it even more difficult for reporters to simply do their job, laying way for rampant obfuscation and spin.
Higher political polarization and decreased turnout are associated with the decline of local news as is increased government corruption and waste.
The free press is dying, and that’s a threat to democracy.
HOW TO DISCUSS
Commercial news organizations should be financially healthy. Journalism should be empowered to work for investors as an economic model to avoid being a target for corporate capitalists. Many news organizations have always been — and continue to be — profitable, though not on the scale investors desire. That leaves them vulnerable to takeover by raiders who strip newsrooms of veteran reporters with institutional knowledge, degrading the quality of the news offered to residents. Let’s find ways for news organizations to make money for investors but keep standards high.
Non-profit new media must be encouraged. Over the last decade,more than 300 non-profit news organizations opened around the country, and Virginia should encourage them, especially those that cover rural areas and communities of color.
Push for “re-planting” newspapers into community-based nonprofit organizations and locally-owned Public Benefit Corporations. More than half of daily newspaper circulation in America is now owned by private equity firms or hedge funds. They have slashed local news coverage. Sam supports allowing newspaper chains, private equity firms and hedge funds to donate a newspaper to a local nonprofit group that pledges to provide significant reporting. He also backs giving enhanced charitable donation credits to firms that do so.
Virginia needs stronger open meetings and public records laws. Sam recognizes that the backbone of local reporting relies on government business being conducted in public and records of everything from government spending to individual arrests being readily available. Such laws help journalists be the watchdog of government.
INVEST IN LOCAL JOURNALISM
Empower Virginians To Help Local Media Financially. Sam supports introducing a state version of the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act, stalled in Congress since January. This bill creates three tax credits to encourage media to cover local news. The first individual and business tax credit is worth up to $250 per year for a subscription to a local newspaper; the second gives local media outlets up to $50,000 a year in payroll tax credits; and the third incentivizes businesses advertising with local media, worth up to $5,000 per year.
Money For Public Advertising Should Be Spent Locally. A substantial portion of government advertising should go to locally-owned and nonprofit newsrooms, including Black and Brown-owned newsrooms which sometimes have not benefited from government advertising campaigns. Sam knows that local advertising keeps local residents informed, and he will fight for newspapers of record to keep their government advertisement revenue as your delegate.
SUNSHINE IS THE BEST DISINFECTANT
Make Requester Qualifications Consistent. Current Virginia law mandates that only Virginia residents and certain media outlets can submit public record requests. This is a disadvantage for freelance journalists, national and international publications, online publications, and non-Virginia residents who are stakeholders in business being conducted in the Commonwealth. Sam will push for consistency in Virginia’s Code regarding these narrow definitions of record requesters.
Cap FOIA Fees. Documents obtained under FOIA belong to the people of Virginia, and they shouldn’t be charged to access them. Localities often hit requesters with over-estimated costs associated with obtaining data in an effort to deter requesters. Sam supports capping fees for each FOIA request at $100. As your delegate, he will work to bring more transparency to the FOIA process by advocating for these types of measures.
Open Meetings Are Good Government. Virginia would be a stronger state if all its government meetings were accessible and open to the public. Local officials often add last-minute agenda items for important issues when they see that meeting turnout is low, depriving citizens their right to voice opinions about these issues. As delegate, Sam will fight for legislation that opens all of Virginia’s meetings to the public and only allows for last-minute agenda additions in cases of emergencies.
Train Public Employees And Officials. Oftentimes, record custodians aren’t fully trained about their duties to produce official non-exempt documents. Sam will support the continued education and training of these record keepers so they can better serve the public.