The city of Seattle is considering a voucher program that would help fund local news reporting. But publishers appear opposed to it.
The program, patterned on Seattle’s democracy vouchers, would be financed, in part, with a property tax that would raise from $3 million to $10 million a year.
“That alone gives pause because Seattle residents can afford only so many tax increases,” the Seattle Times said in an editorial on Tuesday. “Such a levy may undermine their generous support for local news.”
Another problem is that the vouchers could not be used to buy subscriptions — only to make donations.
“Proponents favor using vouchers to make donations,” Brier Dudley, editor of The Seattle Times Save the Free Press initiative, recently wrote. “Outlets receiving donations would have to make supported content available for free."
But Dudley argues, “This plays favorites with tax dollars. It also starts this pilot project on the wrong foot, conflicting with the business model now supporting most local journalism.”
He adds, “It sounds like one of those complicated retail loyalty programs.”
This debate takes place as the Medill School of Journalism reports that people in more than half of U.S. counties have little or no access to a reliable local news source.
The proposal might appear on the ballot in 2024 if donors are found to fund a campaign, Dudley reports.
Dudley and The Seattle Times think that the solution to funding local news should be at the federal level, and that rural areas deserve more help than coastal cities.