It’s nice to be regarded as essential. That formal designation has been given to newspapers by governments as they’ve been forced to order some businesses to close in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

News and information are especially essential in the midst of the worst public health crisis the nation has faced in a century. And local news is the most essential of all — information that your local newspaper provides with a depth and breadth that no other outlet can match.

The questions we face in this pandemic are often urgent.

Where can I go to be tested for the coronavirus? When will the schools reopen? Are coronavirus infections going up or down in my community? What are my state and local officials doing to address the pandemic?

Politicians have grasped at war analogies to convey the seriousness and the potentially life-and-death consequences of the times we’re living.

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It’s also life and death for newspapers.

The abrupt shutdown of the economy has nosedived advertising, the lifeblood of newspapers, by 70%, threatening their survival.

One of the ironies of the coronavirus pandemic is that readers are turning to newspapers and their websites more than ever, hungry for vital information, even as newspapers struggle to keep going.

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We know readers want what we offer. New readers on InForum grew 56% after the pandemic hit, and page views rose similarly. In normal times, those kinds of numbers would draw advertisers.

But these are not normal times; once again, much of the advertising stream has run catastrophically dry.

So to keep local newspapers and other local outlets going, the News Media Alliance is proposing legislation calling for major advertising campaigns by federal, state and local governments to serve and support the public during the coronavirus crisis.

We’re asking the North Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations to support this important effort. Newspapers are an essential part of the nation’s information ecosystem and vital parts of the communities they serve. They’re also in immediate peril.

We’re asking you to contact your representative and senators to urge them to help provide you with the information you need during the most serious public health crisis the nation has faced in a century.

Ads could carry information on medical resources, testing sites, data and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health awareness, access to small business loans and other critical government information.

So please take a moment to tell your representative and senators in Congress how important it is to keep newspapers as a reliable part of our communication system, and to support this legislation to sponsor advertising to convey critical information.

(Here’s a link to contact information: https://www.congressionalinstitute.org/contact-congress/)