Throughout all of the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis and the simultaneous collapse of oil prices, one thing has become abundantly clear: accurate local information from trustworthy sources is more important than ever. As we all grapple with the hyperlocal implications of the virus and the oil shock, communities, like ours in West Texas, need to be aware of which stores are open and what supplies are in stock.
Local news organizations have proudly stepped up to meet these challenges, but our ability to continue to do so long term is in jeopardy. To maintain an independent local news media that Americans can trust, federal policymakers must act now.
The viewers of West Texas depend on local media outlets, like us, to provide them with news that matters, from school closures and weather updates to natural disasters and announcements by elected officials. But we are particularly proud of the way local correspondents are covering the COVID-19 epidemic. They are making sure those in the West Texas area have relevant, up-to-date information so they can remain safe and informed. While we may be able to see President Trump on national news, we can only hear Governor Abbott’s critical updates on the pandemic that are specific to Texas from a local source.
In times like these, local news outlets provide crucial support for the communities they serve. This is not a responsibility we take on lightly. Each day, our newsroom works around the clock to bring our viewers news and information – in both English and Spanish – that has the potential to save lives and slow the spread of the virus.
However, in recent years, local news organizations have been challenged as tech giants like Google and Facebook take an ever-larger share of local advertising revenue. While there is nothing wrong with healthy competition, the fact is that the playing field isn’t level. The tech companies remain largely unregulated, while local broadcasters remain heavily regulated, including rules formulated decades ago that no longer make sense in the current marketplace.
With the added challenge of a potential recession, the need for change is urgent. Already, local car dealerships, restaurants and retailers that we rely on for ad revenue are being hit hard by the fallout of the pandemic. Thankfully, those businesses will see some relief in the just-passed emergency aid package, but it won’t be enough to keep them advertising as they have in the past.
In this time of great uncertainty, we need the federal government to recognize the value of local news organizations and offer support accordingly. In a letter to Congress earlier this month, four national media organizations, which serve as representatives for thousands of local news outlets, including ours, called for relief during this difficult time. They proposed that the eligibility of the Paycheck Protection Program be expanded to include local stations, and that the federal government purchase advertising from local media organizations to substitute for declining local business advertising.
At CBS7 and Telemundo 20, we are proud to serve our community during the times when viewers need us the most. We pledge to continue to do everything in our power to earn our viewers’ trust and hope our local small businesses will continue to work with us in any capacity they can. Our only ask is for federal regulators and policymakers not to hinder us in upholding that promise. With the right choices, they can provide the framework for local news stations across the country to remain strong through this crisis and for years to come.
Don Davis is vice president and general manager of KOSA-CBS 7 & KTLE – Telemundo 20.