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D.C. Council Examines Proposal for Local News Voucher Program

Two D.C. Council members introduced a bill this week that would provide grants to local news outlets based on a voucher system.

Council members Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Democrat, and Janeese Lewis George, Ward 4 Democrat, introduced the Local News Funding Act on Monday. The bill would spend $11.5 million annually to support news outlets in the D.C. area.

The funds would be proportioned based on a voucher system that would let residents choose which outlets should get the most funding. The bill would provide each resident with news coupons for different news outlets.

Funds then would be issued quarterly based on how many coupons an outlet receives; organizations must receive at least 250 coupons to be eligible for a grant. Outlets that lock local content behind a paywall would not be eligible.

The program would be overseen by an independent seven-member community journalism board. Outlets that wish to qualify for a grant will have to register with the board and provide information on their owners as well as if they are a for-profit organization.

Local TV stations aren’t eligible under the bill, as the District already provides grants to stations that cover the city.

States such as California and New Jersey have dedicated public money to local news through tax programs, but no other U.S. territory has a law set up to provide voucher grants to news outlets.

The bill comes as the journalism industry grapples with layoffs and financial woes. The Washington City Paper eliminated its print edition last year, and The Washington Post recently offered buyouts to employees to avoid layoffs.

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