Give local journalism a fighting chance against Big Tech
Republicans and Democrats disagree on much these days, but members of both major congressional parties believe Big Tech has unfairly taken advantage of local news outlets. Now, if only those lawmakers could pass a bill to give journalists a fighting chance.
This bill, the Journalism Preservation and Competition Act, was introduced in the House and the Senate. This would allow news organizations to negotiate as a group with tech companies such as Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google) over how those companies use and pay for news content. Federal antitrust law currently prevents this type of coordinated trading. A federal arbitrator would oversee everything to ensure fairness.
An exemption – called a “safe harbor” – is necessary because Big Tech companies otherwise disregard news outlets, especially small bastions of local free press.
Individual newspapers, TV stations and other news outlets lack the power to negotiate from a position of strength with Google and Facebook for a greater reduction in the advertising revenue their content generates for the giants. social media.
If a local newspaper doesn’t like its deal, Facebook and Google are under little pressure to change the terms. Big corporations also don’t want to have to deal with every newspaper, TV station and other news outlet. If they could negotiate together, as allowed by the law on competition and the preservation of journalism, the union would be strength.
Over the past two decades, the number of people buying print subscriptions has declined. Online readership helps make up the difference, but online readers and viewers don’t generate the same amount of revenue through subscriptions and, importantly, advertising.
Google and Facebook take a significant chunk of online advertising revenue. They also appropriate news content to populate search results and put their own revenue-generating advertisements in front of readers. More than half of digital ad revenue stays with Big Tech instead of funding journalism.
Falling revenues have forced many news outlets to downsize. Worse still, hundreds of newspapers across the country have closed in recent years, creating news deserts where there is no one to cover town hall and the school board. In this vacuum, the public lacks the tools to hold elected officials accountable and make informed decisions. Numerous studies have shown that without a local newspaper, a community is much more exposed to official corruption, wasteful spending, and misinformation.
This market-based approach, in which news organizations negotiate fair compensation for the content they produce, is preferable to other government interventions designed to help journalism. For example, some California lawmakers have proposed funding local news organizations directly with state grants. The problem with this idea is that it creates a conflict of interest and a risk that officials will try to influence media coverage for partisan or political advantage.
The Journalism Preservation and Competition Act has been making the rounds of Congress for a few years. Despite his bipartisan support, he hasn’t made much headway. North Bay Rep. Mike Thompson is a co-sponsor, and Rep. Jared Huffman told the editorial board he plans to sign on. It’s time to step aside and give local news a chance to break Big Tech’s grip on journalism.
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