Big tech uses journalism, big tech should pay for it

By John Galer, publisher of The Journal-News, Hillsboro, IL
President, National Association of Newspapers

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John Galer is president of the National Newspaper Association, a 137-year-old organization that represents community newspapers. Galer publishes newspapers in central Illinois.

The powers that Google and Facebook have over economic and political power in society — particularly over the news industry — have caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington, DC. After a close election and widespread concerns about the quality of public debate, many wonder if social media played a role in the misinformation that erodes our free press and plagues our democracy.

Nowhere is this power more daunting than in the social media giants’ use of news outlets’ reports, which the platforms use without compensation to journalists. Google and Facebook have a digital news content distribution duopoly, which drives people to social media platforms where the owners make money. Platforms are hoarding critical data and using clever tactics, like cropping stories into rich previews, to keep users on their sites — siphoning off ad revenue that smaller, local publishers need.

Every hour that passes, Google and Facebook generate millions of dollars in advertising revenue in the United States. This amount could fund dozens of local journalists. But local newspapers in many communities that fund people who report on free and fair elections are struggling to pay the payroll.

It’s time for a change, before we head into another brutal and divisive election season leading up to the 2024 election. America needs real, factual, and independent reporting now more than ever. While national media can be treated with skepticism, research shows that local news media are generally trustworthy. But will they have the income to do the job?

Congress must take action to curb the undue influence of Big Tech on the news media industry and ensure that the work of local newsgatherers is fairly compensated. This is exactly what the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) aims for.

The JCPA is specifically designed to ensure that Google and Facebook pay for what they use. The proposed legislation would provide a temporary, limited antitrust safe harbor for small, local news publishers to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google for fair compensation for the use of journalists’ content. The policy also incentivizes and rewards publishers who invest in their reporters and editorial staff, granting media outlets with demonstrated investments in their staff a greater portion of the funds resulting from negotiations.

By challenging the monopoly power of Google and Facebook and ensuring that more subscription and advertising dollars go to publishers, the JCPA not only protects and promotes quality information, but also encourages competition. Congress has made progress on this legislation. He should finish the job before the end of the year.

John Galer is president of the National Newspaper Association, a 137-year-old organization that represents community newspapers. Galer publishes newspapers in central Illinois.

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