Would You Pay For News In Return For Tax Credits?

There was a story last month on Nieman Lab looking at how successful a tax credit for digital news subscriptions has been in Canada.  The intent was to help news organizations stay in business and according to the article, there is a similar bill being considered in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the number of people taking advantage of the program, which allows you to write off 15% of your subscription, has been pretty small. Only about 1% of Canadian taxpayers claimed a credit and some news organizations didn’t apply to be part of the program.

Some news orgs that may have qualified have declined to apply. A number of those that were deemed qualified Canadian journalism organizations have pitched the tax credit to existing subscribers, and used it as a perk to entice new ones.

At The Logic, … information on the tax credit was sent to all existing subscribers and advertised to potential subscribers, …

The end result was “negligible,” Skok said.

Rather than prompting new subscribers to sign up, Skok said, “the people who would have subscribed anyway are using the credit.” Skok suggests that subscribers weren’t swayed because they wouldn’t see the benefit until tax time and because the 15% credit was too low to change many minds on paying for news.

That doesn’t bode well for the corresponding bill proposed in the US which covers 80% of the subscription cost, but requires a multi-year commitment.

…cost of a local newspaper subscription or donation to a local news nonprofit in the first year, and 50% in the subsequent four years. So in order to earn the full $250 credit, you’d have to spend at least $312.50 on subscriptions or nonprofit news donations in the first year, or $500 in the following four years.

That’s a lot more than what most Americans pay for local news currently. Just 20% of people living in the United States say they pay for online news of any kind,…

However, the news outlet doesn’t need to be digital print media. It could be a local television or radio station as well so presumably NPR and PBS stations could benefit by seeing larger donations over multiple years.

Unfortunately, since this is a tax credit, people in lower income brackets who don’t pay taxes wouldn’t benefit if they made an attempt to support local news outlets.

What caught my eye in the article about the US bill is that it incentivizes small businesses to increase their advertising. My first thought was that this would benefit arts organizations until making the obvious realization that most arts organizations don’t pay taxes. On the other hand, it might allow arts organizations to promote activities which generate taxable unrelated business income and bolster an additional income stream.

A tax credit of up to $5,000 for small businesses that buy ads in their local publications. Small businesses could use this tax credit to advertise with local news sites, newspapers, television, or radio. As with the tax credit for individuals, local businesses would foot 20% of the costs the first year and 50% in the following years. So a local business could quintuple their current advertising in Year 1 and double it in Years 2 through 5 at zero net cost. Under the Senate bill, to qualify as “small,” businesses must have no more than 50 employees.

From what I can tell, the House version of the bill went to Ways and Means committee last June. Unless it got wrapped up in another bill it may be languishing there.

As great as this bill, which has bipartian support, may sound in terms of reviving local journalism, the article notes that most local news outlets have been bought up and drained of assets by hedge funds. So a lot of the money would end up being channeled to large corporations despite the limits on employees in the bill’s definition of local news entity.

On the other hand, the opportunity to garner greater support may see the emergence of new news outlets on the local level.

Starting Small And Building Momentum

Last month, The Art Newspaper reported that NYC would begin requiring all employers to disclose the salary range of jobs starting on May 15. Many saw this as a positive step for the arts world as well as the employment environment at large, especially since it applies to many different employment arrangements, including internships.

The new ruling, an amendment to New York City Human Rights Law passed by the city council last December, applies to roles that are remote or in-person, permanent and short-term contracts, and to interns. Any company with more than four employees must adhere to it or risk civil penalties rising to $125,000 from the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

[…]

This small shift, he says, could transform the hiring process, and potentially the wage structure, of some of the top cultural institutions in the US, many of which have been subject to activist campaigns and union pushes in recent years due to huge internal wage inequalities

[…]

Finkelpearl describes New York City’s new law as being “long overdue” and sees it as part of a “generational shift around how people look at their jobs”. He points out that it comes in the wake of the so-called Great Resignation, or the Big Quit, which saw millions of workers across the country resign from their jobs during 2021.

A tidbit I found interesting came near the end of the article where it was noted that New York State (NYS) had made it illegal for employers to ask about salary history in January 2020, but that New York City had passed that law in October 2017. As far as I can tell, New York State hasn’t passed a law about wage transparency similar to NYC’s, but there was a subtle implication that it may come in the future.

While we have seen some state governments use preemption to overrule laws made on the municipal level, there are frequently times that city level laws can evolve to encompass the whole state –even in the face of preemption. The Ballotpedia article on preemption I just linked to cites NYS governor’s override of NYC’s plastic bag ban in 2017, but a statewide ban was eventually implemented in 2020.

I bring this up because there may be some hope and value in advocating for arts and cultural causes on the local level and seeing it expand to the state. Of course, a large segment of the population needs to see the need/value to have an investment in putting laws and rules forward.  The report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences I wrote about yesterday frames the need to support culture in terms of extant support for other industry segments.   Or as in the case of Minnesota’s Legacy Fund, Art & Culture made common cause with wildlife/wilderness preservation.

Yes, But When She Said It, It Sounded Brilliant

Vu Le posted this week about a well-observed phenomenon he termed “Outsider Efficiency Bias.”  He defined this as basically having an outsider like a consultant come in and be lauded for making the same observations and recommendations that internal constituencies have.

Because this is a common experience, I figured someone would have already coined a term for it, but I couldn’t find one. Though logical fallacies like appeal to authority, appeal to accomplishment and appeal to novelty all intersect.

He points out this manifests in the hiring and contracting decisions organizations make and beyond just bringing consultants in for a week or two.

•Board members insisting on hiring an external candidate to be the ED instead of promoting a qualified person within the organization
•EDs/CEOs doing the same thing, hiring a staff from outside, often neglecting internal candidates
•Foundations hiring people from academia or the corporate world, who have no experience in nonprofit, to be the CEO
•Organizations hiring consultants from outside the geographic area instead of contracting with local consultants who live and work there
•Organizations hiring local consultants instead of just listening to their staff
•Conferences booking national and international speakers instead of working with local speakers

Le said he experienced this situation with his own board when they suggested bringing in an outsider to advise them about how to write blogs and articles better. If you aren’t aware, Vu Le is in fairly high demand as a speaker and panelist based on the content of his blog posts and use of social media to advocate for equity.

He acknowledges that an outsider perspective is important to the growth of organizations and is not discounting the need, but he lists many ways in which a bias toward outsiders can undermine the short and long term health of an organization.

I would have to copy and paste a significant portion of his post to include everything so I encourage people to read the original and think about how the bias exists in your organizational culture.

Since the Bible talks about a prophet being honored everywhere except in his own town and among his friends and family, this behavior is pretty deep seated but can be avoided with the investment of some thought and attention.

Looking To Public Art To Revitalize Cities Post-Covid

Somewhat in line with my post yesterday about the growing number of basic guarantee income programs for artists, Artsjournal.com had an interview with the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, about the beginning of a 10 year initiative to create public art. The program had been delayed by the start of Covid and the mayor says that has created an even greater need for public works of art.

This is true for a couple of reasons: first, I think the sense of joy — the look and feel of the city being enlivened by artistic creations of all kinds — became even more important after a desolate period when you’d walk around downtown and it was bleak, I mean it was a wasteland. The second reason, which was valid before but now became 100 times more valid, was that it also allows some of our artists to tell their stories. And beyond the benefits to us of having those stories told and those works displayed, this program will retain the services of 1,500 artists over the course of this year. That’s not unimportant in the context of a group that has been very hard hit. I’m not minimizing the problems other people have had, but artists had a terrible time. Now there’s a need to bring the city back to life and there’s nothing like the arts and culture to do that.

I was interested to see the interviewer, Jonathan Dekel, follow up by asking the mayor how this vision of supporting artists and their importance to the city reconciles with the concerns about gentrification displacing the artists. The mayor made mention of some measures like tax relief for music venues and affordable housing arrangements which recognize that artists’ income is not regular from month to month.