Today the Oregon Legislature will host a public hearing on House Bill 2605 — the Protect Journalism Act. At first glance, it has nothing to do with bicycles or transportation. But if you consider that it could be a vital source of funding for BikePortland — which I’d argue is the largest and most influential cycling and transportation news outlet in the state — you’ll understand why this is on our front page.
Sponsored by House Rep. Khanh Pham, the bill aims to improve the financial health of businesses like BikePortland throughout the state by creating new funding opportunities to support journalists and the news outlets they work for. The way it was initially introduced it would allow Oregonians to make a financial contribution to a news outlet and receive a tax credit (Similar to Oregon’s existing political tax credit). The bill also seeks to kickstart a new grant program to offer immediate financial aid to fund local news — especially in rural parts of Oregon where news deserts are increasingly common.
I’ve heard that the bill has been amended since being introduced. The new plan is to drop the tax credit and instead seek the legislature’s permission to establish a statewide task force of journalism experts that will meet and come up with an better solution to this problem. That solution will then be pitched in a bill next session. (The grant program part of the bill will remain this session.)
I was so happy to see this bill introduced! It was like someone finally saw me and my struggle to make the business side of BikePortland work.
Below is the testimony I submitted this morning:
Dear Committee members,
Thank you for taking time to consider the Protect Journalism Act (HB 2605). I strongly support this bill for two main reasons: I’m an Oregonian who believes that a well-informed public is essential to a strong democracy, and because I’m the owner of a small news business who knows all too well how hard it is to survive in today’s media business.
I launched BikePortland in 2005 — 18 years ago — because I saw a gap in our community that needed to be filled. There was no central, trusted source of information where all the different groups, people, policymakers and organizations could come together, learn from one another, build a stronger community, and learn about important news that could impact their lives.
Nearly 20 years in, I’ve won journalism awards, awards from advocacy groups, a special commendation from a member of the United State Congress, and have been the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper stories. I’ve built a platform that reaches hundreds of thousands of people every month. Our work has influenced countless policies, projects, and people.
But I don’t consider BikePortland a success. Why? Because, despite broad support from our community, and many years of hard work, we are still not financially sustainable. If we don’t raise revenue significantly by the middle of this year, we have to face some very hard decisions.
The news business is unforgiving, and it’s not a meritocracy. It doesn’t care about the quality of your work or the impact it has on the community. It only cares about clicks. I believe in focusing on what’s vital, not viral. I have felt the urge to favor clicks over quality — to give people a piece of candy instead of a well-rounded meal — because that’s often where the money is. But doing that leads to a race to the bottom and it’s not what is best for our community or for Oregon.
As a for-profit corporation, we don’t pursue grant funding and we can’t offer tax deductions for donations. That makes our funding challenge even more difficult, and it makes us even more reliant on the whims of advertisers, and the financial support of individual Oregonians.
The legislature has already created the political tax credit to encourage more people to support and get engaged in electoral politics. We should have funded journalism first! After all, more funding for political parties without the news outlets and journalists to hold them accountable in this age of divisive, win-at-all-costs, misinformation campaigns — puts Oregon’s democracy in peril.
The local news business has never been a downhill ride in the park, and these days it’s like trying to pedal a bicycle through a sandy desert without water. HB 2605 would be an oasis.
Please support this bill. Let’s rebuild the foundation of local news.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
– Jonathan Maus
HB 2605 will be heard in the House Committee on Rules at 1:00 pm today (2/9). If you believe local media outlets like BikePortland are worth fighting for, I strongly encourage you to support this bill. You can still submit written testimony, and you can connect with Rep. Pham’s office if you’d like to learn more or get involved.
And yes, it’s true what I wrote in my testimony. Please become a financial supporter of BikePortland today.