Opinion: Oregon Legislature should step up for local media

Hi from the The Shed.

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.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

Thanks for reading.

BikePortland has served this community with independent community journalism since 2005. We rely on subscriptions from readers like you to survive. Your financial support is vital in keeping this valuable resource alive and well.

Please subscribe today to strengthen and expand our work.

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David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

Can this bill also be used to support tax breaks to subsidize the publication of right-wing publishers of lies, conspiracies and rumors?

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The government already picks winners and losers based on skin color and gender identity. Do we really want them to pick them based on political affiliation too? Who gets to make the determination?

If I had a magic wand, I’d make posting of lies illegal, but who would determine what’s a lie and what isn’t? No easy answers.

jakeco
jakeco
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Your question is so outrageous its hard to tell if you’re being serious. Right and left wing are constructs most often used to flatten out any nuance of thought or idea that an individual might have. It’s best to focus on the idea of the speaker (or in this supposed case the journalist) rather than a flat dismissal of them due to which side of the political coin they reside.
I’m all for this idea since the more light is shown into dark places and the more different sets of eyes looking into a situation the more we all benefit.

Sherri P
Sherri P
1 year ago

In my opinion. Bike Portland is more of personal blog than a true journalistic endeavor.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Sherri P

Yes, but the BP POV is something that many of us cyclists really treasure. If you are a cyclist (maybe you aren’t), you’ll know that there’s something about riding a bike that JM really gets, since he lives the life of a cyclist. It’s different from being a journalist assigned to cover a “beat,” which implies a kind of detachment that we cyclists do NOT want JM and his writers to have. You have to live this life in order to get it.

narm
narm
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

If you are a cyclist (maybe you aren’t)…JM really gets, since he lives the life of a cyclist.

You have to live this life in order to get it.

I intensely dislike this elitist attitude. A bike is nothing more than a tool used to get from point A to B and its use does not require someone to “live this life” or to identify as a “cyclist”. In fact, this type of identity politics is one of the reasons that cycling has such a small mode share in Portland (and the rest of the USA).

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  narm

It’s not elitist to enjoy riding a bike. My bikes are way more than a tool to get from point A to B. They are a key part of how I express myself, and while it may be a little silly to put so much love and care into a bike I don’t really care. I recently cracked the frame on the first bike I bought after college (with my first full time job paycheck) and I was devastated.

You are going to have to cite something if you are going to claim that “cycling elitism” is why cycling has such a small mode share in the USA. Rather than say, 100 years of lobbying and cultural dominance by the automotive industry. Or trillions spent on freeways. Or extremely sprawl inducing land use patterns.

While I think the “bike community” can be an intimidating and counterproductive monolith to outsiders, this is small fries on the “things that need to be done for people to get cycling” list. And honestly, the “bike community” in Portland is very inclusive – it’s not like this is a roadie focused city. Mostly, it’s people who ride for transportation or pleasure, or a little of both.

jakeco
jakeco
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Inclusive?? I seem to recall a rather threatening and unpleasant welcome to a now local artist.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  jakeco

If you’re referring to the ghost bike artist incident, I don’t think I’d label that as “threatening”. Unpleasant even feels like a stretch to be honest. Misunderstanding more like? And I dunno, if someone goes around putting up something that I perceive as a monument to someone killed on a bike by an automobile I’ll certainly have questions about it.

https://bikeportland.org/2023/01/17/mysterious-white-bikes-in-northeast-portland-are-work-of-artist-and-peace-activist-369382

jakeco
jakeco
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The intolerance demonstrated by the reaction to the peace bikes is still shocking. I suggest reading some of these comments….

https://bikeportland.org/2023/01/18/artist-responds-to-angry-reaction-to-white-bike-installations-369397

and Jonathan lays it out in the second paragraph….

 “The vast majority of the responses to Dr. Nik’s peace project have been negative. Many people expressed anger that he knows what ghost bikes are, yet still decided to continue with his project. Others accuse him of appropriating a piece of bike culture for his own pet project. Some people have threatened to remove the bikes altogether.”

Maybe your life is such where anger and threats are just misunderstandings. I certainly hope not!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  narm

I know a lot of very humble bicyclists (and car owners too) that give their “tools” personal names and personalities, as living pets rather than as dead machines. I guess it depends where one is coming from in life.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I call my hammer “Mr. Smashy”

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago

In my opinion, BikePortland is my preferred source of local journalism about issues I care about. That’s why I’m a subscriber!

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

Why have you not thought about making BP a nonprofit? The nonprofit funding model seems to be working really well for so many organizations in Portland, who seem to slurp from the public and philanthropic trough to their heart’s content.