The California Legislature is wrapping up the 2019-2020 legislative session at the end of this month, making decisions in what is one of the most challenging periods in recent history.

It is also a time of crisis for the state’s community news outlets, which have suffered average losses of about half their advertising revenue, on top of a decade of financial decline. Some have closed their doors forever; others have made severe cutbacks in newsroom staff or reduced distribution.

At a time when the need for trusted, accurate information has never been greater – nor the ability to provide it more at risk – newly introduced legislation will provide a lifeline to community news outlets like the Monterey County Weekly, allowing newspapers to continue to serve their readers.

Assembly Bill 323 will stabilize community and ethnic news outlets by prioritizing these outlets for placement of state outreach advertising. These advertising efforts – which address issues such as Covid-19, West Nile virus and smoking cessation – are intended to improve health and save lives.

But right now, many of these funds go to digital platforms, where messages may not reach intended audiences. Placing ads for behavioral outreach campaigns in community news outlets will ensure they influence a greater spectrum of Californians, including underserved communities of all ethnicities in the hardest-to-reach census tracts, without the state having to spend one additional cent. In turn, community news outlets will be further supported as they recover from the pandemic-related advertising dip.

AB 323 also extends newspapers’ exemption to AB 5, which reclassifies the employment status of independent contractors, like news carriers and distributors, to employees. Compliance with AB 5 would increase operational costs to newspapers by 85 percent – an unbearable financial burden.

Newspaper readers like you can make a difference in helping to ensure the survival of news outlets by contacting your local legislators and urging them to support AB 323. State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, can be reached at 657-6315; State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas at 769-8040; Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, at 649-2832; and Assemblymember Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, at 759-8676.

There has never been a more urgent time for media outlets to reach into communities with messages of empowerment, unity, support and resources. Journalists are committed to their mission of providing readers with this information as long as their doors are open. By passing AB 323, lawmakers will show their support for a robust free media and the role of newspapers in keeping communities informed and connected.

CHARLES F. CHAMPION, former publisher of newspapers in Santa Clarita and Pasadena, is president and CEO of the California News Publishers Association, of which the Weekly is a member.

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