Editorial: Proposed legislation would hurt local newspapers

New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and a host of colleagues, including Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), have introduced legislation that shifts the responsibility and costs of recycling from municipalities to the producers of packaging and paper products. The legislation is called the Extended Producer Responsibility Act, and in other countries around the world, newspapers have been exempted from these recycling initiatives. 

New York should follow suit.

The proposed legislation will not increase or improve the recycling of newspapers — it will simply shift the cost of recycling from municipalities to newspapers, which are already suffering from revenue declines caused by COVID-19 and big tech platforms. Burdening newspaper publishers with the cost of recycling will result in layoffs, further eroding citizen access to essential local news and information.

Newspapers perform an important role in our democracy, and they are not a consumable product — there are no contents and no packaging — the two are indistinguishable. Treating newspapers like packaged goods discriminates unfairly against them. The packaged goods industry makes no investment in the contents of their packages, just the packaging itself.

Further, newspapers have been good stewards of the environment for decades. In 1989, New York’s newspaper industry entered into a voluntary agreement with the State of New York to increase its usage of recycled newsprint to 40% by the year 2000. And newspapers already recycle at a rate far higher than any other recyclable product. 

Newspapers are good citizens, and they are cheerleaders and watchdogs for the communities they serve. New York’s newspapers, including this one, will be pleased to enter into a voluntary agreement to support, promote and educate readers and community leaders about the importance of recycling. 

New York’s legislators should consider the devastating impact this legislation will have on newspapers and citizen access to local journalism.

The bill also comes at a time when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to treat news reporters differently than other community-facing essential workers by denying them timely access to the COVID-19 vaccine. During the pandemic, media members worked harder than ever to bring the news to their communities — including placing themselves in situations that could have exposed them to the virus — in an effort to deliver essential stories to the public.

The media has also played a critical role in promoting the importance of the vaccine and has often given the public the information it needs to access it. While some public officials, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a former newspaper reporter, have called for media company employees to be made eligible for the vaccine, Mr. Cuomo has declined to do so — a real shocker at a time when he is under intense media scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct.

The governor’s reluctance to safeguard the health of essential workers in the media, coupled with the Legislature’s destructive bill, which will damage the financial health of small community newspapers, offers a clear view of just how little our state government cares about having an informed public.