Philadelphia’s blogger tax is a slippery slope

Jason Stverak President, Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Font Size:

Local and state governments around the nation are struggling to move out of the red. Some are cutting spending while others are laying off government employees. But one city has decided to levy a new tax on a group of individuals who voice their lives, problems, and concerns via the internet. Yes, bloggers in Philadelphia beware: you are now subject to a $300 “business privilege license.”

What is being dubbed as the “blogger tax” is a recent demand by cash-strapped Philadelphia for bloggers to pay $50 a year or $300 for a lifetime business license. There is no revenue minimum for this tax, so all bloggers who earn any money from their blogs are required to pay it.

Saying that this tax is a bad idea is an understatement. In addition to being an unnecessary tax burden on bloggers, this new tax is a slippery slope and could hinder citizen journalism.

People tend to forget that bloggers are not all teenagers grumbling about their bad dates or conspiracy theorists railing against the government. The blogosphere is no longer just for ranters and ideologues. Increasingly, straight-shooting journalists cut from newsrooms are becoming online citizen journalists or forming non-profit online journalism organizations. These seasoned journalists-turned-bloggers will quit blogging if they are taxed on their meager profits.

This new class of citizen journalists has been widely recognized as the answer to the depleting resources at newspapers around the nation. It will come as no surprise that the traditional news model is failing and as such many are looking to the internet and blogs for the re-animation of journalism. Imposing a tax on those who utilize the internet to cover the news will lead to fewer watchdogs online.

This tax will cause bloggers to re-evaluate how successful they want their blogs to be. One of the incentives of having a high-authority, widely-read blog is that advertisers invest in your website. But, with Philadelphia’s new tax on bloggers, citizen journalists are now going to have to choose whether to shell out $300 in taxes or no longer accept advertising money. This will be an easy decision to make for the many bloggers who earn less than their tax allotment. Those who decide to not take in revenue will be less motivated to produce quality journalism. As a result, everyone will lose.

At the end of the day, this tax will not be a major revenue source for Philadelphia and will prevent citizen journalists from reporting on news that is overlooked by the traditional media. This tax will deter bloggers from reporting the gripping details of political scandals or revealing the hidden truths behind their governments.

If you are a reporter or a citizen journalist interested in getting involved in non-profit journalism, please email Info@FranklinCenterHQ.org. For more information on Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.

Jason Stverak is President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing reporters, citizens and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise and technical support. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.