City Cast

Should DC Council Fund Local News?

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on October 26
D.C. newspaper stand.

D.C. newspaper stand. (Wayan Vota/Flickr)

D.C. Council is considering a first-of-its-kind program to support local journalism amid increased layoffs and shuttering newsrooms. The best part? D.C. residents get to decide who gets the funding.

Catch Up Quick:

Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George and Brianne Nadeau introduced a bill on Monday which would set aside 0.1% of D.C.’s annual budget (around $11.5 million) for local news. To make sure politicians don’t gain control over the journalists that hold them accountable (ya know, freedom of speech), residents would use vouchers to decide where the funding goes.

How Do the Coupons Work?

Registered voters in D.C. will each receive five “news coupons” a year to hand out. Any qualifying outlet that receives at least 250 coupons will earn grant funding. The percentage of coupons an outlet receives represents the percentage they will receive from the funding pool that quarter. So, if an outlet got 10% of the allocated news coupons, they would receive $287,000 in grant money.

 Janeese Lewis George speaking at 2020 campaign kick-off.

Janeese Lewis George speaking at 2020 campaign kick-off. (Janeese4DC/Flickr)

What Outlets Are Eligible?

Eligible publications must 1) be primarily reporting on local news (duh), 2) not have a paywall for D.C. residents, 3) have clear distinctions between ads and editorial content, 4) not be sports or TV coverage. These qualifications and more will be verified by a “Community Journalism Board,” a group of seven volunteers appointed by various city entities.

Right Place At the Right Time:

If passed, this funding would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and it couldn’t come at a more desperate time. The Washington Post is looking to cut a quarter of its Metro section, Street Sense also had to cut staff this year, and Washington City Paper did away with its print edition. Things are rough out here!

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