Help save local journalism, help pass Assembly Bill 323

Our association of news publishers and editors is charged with protecting the “brands” of 450-plus California newspapers. We’ve been fighting against a rising tide of newsroom closures as the COVID-19 wave breaks over our members’ businesses.

We’re advocating for passage of Assembly Bill 323, introduced by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, to get relief and prevent job losses, small business failures and threats to freedom of the press. All valid and prescient rationale, of course.

Our advocacy is a plea to protect our readers, the people who rely on news reporting to inform their daily lives as citizen-activists, consumers, foodies, artists, travelers and sports fanatics, to name a few.

We tend to take news — and a free press — for granted in our country. It is in our constitutional DNA, so we rarely consider life without it. But we may have to. Due in large measure to the financial impact of the pandemic and the increased costs of new employment laws in California, the death knell is sounding for dozens and dozens of community and ethnic newspapers.

We’re working to keep their presses running and protect readers from the crushing impact of “news-less” communities, public information deserts, in effect.

Imagine your county with no source of reliable information on tax increases, zoning changes, public health and criminal justice. Think of decisions on school safety, elder care, homelessness and property development being made without a newspaper to cover the stories and gauge, monitor and track community consensus or dissent.

What if your county didn’t have a watchdog on public corruption, law enforcement and the latest internet scam. What if voters had to go to the polls not knowing what candidates really stand for? And try to imagine morning coffee without an opinion page to get the blood running (or boiling) or letters from neighbors to express agreement and joy, dismay and disappointment?

And that’s not all. Think about weeks without movie reviews, obituaries, columnists and cartoons; Saturdays without the whole story on last night’s high school sports games; or Sundays without feature stories on community events, places to go and things to see.

To some, losing these newspaper-delivered information assets may seem inconsequential. There are plenty of other news outlets: radio and TV, social media, blogs.

But readers hardly find them adequate. They want more than sound bites and tweets from untrustworthy trolls. They want the credible — and more expansive — coverage provided by working journalists at local newspapers.

Together, readers and newspapers can save local journalism by telling representatives in Sacramento that we strongly support Rubio’s AB323. Passing it will bolster local news outlets by granting greater access to state advertising and more time to adjust to independent contractor laws.

Just email, text or call your assemblyperson and state senator today and say, “Vote for AB323 to save local journalism in my hometown.” You can also post on their Twitter and Facebook pages. There is a saying that goes: When we take things for granted, the things we are granted get taken. Our association is working very hard to make sure it doesn’t apply to local newspapers in this state.

In the meantime, we know the newspaper you’re now reading will do what it has been doing every day: keeping you abreast of the news and in touch with events that affect your daily lives.

Charles Champion is president and CEO of the California News Publishers Association.