It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in a transformational stage, depending less on print publications while looking forward to the challenges that the Internet presents, as well as its opportunities to generate new revenue.
There is much conspiring against the industry — people want their news now, not when the print edition is tossed into the driveway, so more and more they are satisfying that appetite on the cell phone or laptop and even through the double-edged sword that is social media, so circulation numbers are down for newspapers, which also drives down advertising revenues.
As newspapers, including The Robesonian, attempt to reinvent themselves, we don’t need new challenges that threaten our very existence — such as one now in Raleigh. At this this newspaper, we take comfort knowing that no other medium is going to deliver more news about Robeson County than are we, whether that be about our local governments, education, crime, health, community news and the list just keeps growing from there, as well as advertising on where the best deals can be found at local retail outlets.
But more than all of that, the press is a result of that wonderful amendment that ensures freedom of speech — “Congress shall make no law… abridging freedom of speech or of the press.”
In the General Assembly, Senate Republicans want to slap a sales tax on advertising, in newspaper, television and radio. That means for every $100 of advertising a newspaper sells, as much as $4.50 would go to the state and $3 to the county — a revenue loss that could push some publications over the ledge, meaning a loss of jobs.
Newspapers, if forced to pay this tax, would have little choice but to pass the cost onto advertisers, which would then pass the cost onto consumers. Everybody will pay for what is essentially a money grab in Raleigh.
If the bill becomes law, then newspapers will have taken another gut punch from the General Assembly. In 2013, the General Assembly repealed newspapers’ historic exemption from sales tax on subscriptions and other circulation. That exemption had been a recognition by lawmakers that the press is treated differently, for tax purposes, than other businesses.
So why should newspapers be exempt from this sales tax?
For the very reasons that our Founding Fathers made freedom of speech the very first amendment, because they understood that a free flow of ideas, even those that are not popular, was essential to achieve the kind of union they envisioned. A lot has changed since the Constitution was adopted in 1787, but the importance of the First Amendment to our democracy has not. In fact, we would argue that it is more important today than ever before because of the many threats to this nation.
Lawmakers must remember this when they consider taxing the sale of a service such as advertising. Any legislation that is a threat to the newspaper industry, is as well a threat to the state as we now know it.