In Spokane, Cantwell Renews Call For Legislation to Bolster Local News as The Black Lens Newspaper Relaunches

Cantwell: “Local journalists are […] holding those in power accountable. Sandy understood this”; Spokane’s only Black newspaper -- founded by late community leader Sandy Williams -- to relaunch its print edition tomorrow

SPOKANE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) visited Spokane to celebrate the relaunch of The Black Lens, an independent community publication focused on news and stories that impact the Black community. Sen. Cantwell noted that local media is a vital information source for communities and for the vitality of U.S. democracy.

"Local journalism is essential -- it's the strength of our democracy. And it has to be based on the truth, and it has to be transparent. Local journalists are on the ground, asking important questions and countering misinformation, and holding those in power accountable. Sandy understood this. She really did," Sen. Cantwell said. "Under Sandy's leadership, The Black Lens print edition grew from 12 to 24 pages and about 1,300 copies; the new arrangement expands on that vision, and today, The Black Lens will be able to reach the 60,000 Spokesman-Review readers."

"Innovative community-based models --  like this one -- that help local journalism survive is something that people all across the United States should be paying attention to."

The Black Lens was originally founded in 2015 by the late Sandy Williams, a Spokane legend, community leader, and activist. As newly relaunched, The Black Lens will operate out of Gonzaga University and will publish a print edition on the first Sunday of the month. The Black Lens will now have access to an audience of 60,000 print and digital readers nationwide, making it one of the most widely-circulated Black newspapers in the country. The Black Lens is community funded and will be available for free online and in print.

Sen. Cantwell celebrated the re-launch of the newspaper at a press conference alongside the paper’s editor, Natasha Hill; Spokane NAACP President Lisa Gardner, Mayor Lisa Brown, and City Council President Betsy Wilkerson. The press conference was followed by a reception attended by members of the Williams family and leaders from across the community.

Sen. Cantwell has long championed legislation to support local journalism. In 2021, she introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would help financially support local news organizations through tax credits to incentivize hiring more journalists, subscriptions, and advertising from local small businesses. She plans to introduce similar legislation again in this Congress. The Washington state Legislature passed a similar measure with strong bipartisan support in April 2023.

In October 2020, Sen. Cantwell released an extensive report examining the transformation of local news in the information age and impacts to local journalism. Current data paints a grimmer picture -- the nation loses an average of two and a half papers a week.

While local journalism is under threat across the country and impacting all communities, Sen. Cantwell’s report noted that thriving local news sources are particularly important to rural, tribal, and minority communities.  The report noted that, “Recent studies have also shown that the economic threats to local news are impacting news outlets focused on serving minority communities,” and cited other reporting which concluded that “mainstream media often underreports issues such as crimes against minorities, highlighting the need for newspapers serving minority communities.” Similarly, last month, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found that fewer than half of Black Americans say the news often cover the issues that are important to them.

In December 2020, Sen. Cantwell authored the provision of the COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill that made local news outlets eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The provision made over 100 newspapers and broadcasting stations throughout Washington newly eligible for PPP funding, and more than 2,000 newspapers and 3,384 TV and radio stations newly eligible nationwide. 

Video of today’s press conference is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript of Sen. Cantwell’s remarks is available HERE; photos are HERE.