Local news outlets do the work that’s required to effectively investigate and report on the news stories that matter to their communities. But the news content they create is being used – without just compensation – by Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, putting the survival of the news industry in peril. The federal “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” can help rectify this situation, and deserves the support of our representatives in Congress.
Over the past year or so, local journalism has become even more important. From COVID-19 to the controversial 2020 election, news publishers have kept the public up to date on how the changes happening around the world – and in their own backyards – affect their lives. But the local news publishers who provided this service are struggling to survive in an online environment dominated by a few big tech platforms.
The big online tech platforms have been allowed to grow enormously in both size and influence, and in the process to stifle competition and eat into news publishers’ revenue. As of 2018, Google and Facebook had nearly four times as much revenue as entire U.S. news media (TV, print and digital), and have continued to grow since then. Those two companies alone now bring in about 80 percent of digital ad spending and 45 percent of all ad spending in the United States.
They pay to license music and many types of content, but they have refused to do the same for the publishers who create real, critical journalism. The result has been a wave of news publication closures, with thousands of journalists laid off. Local news publishers in particular, who provide the reporting that keeps communities informed, are being driven to the wall. The extinction of local journalism is a real possibility.
We have an idea of what our world would look like without it, and it’s frightening. In Australia earlier this year, Facebook pulled news from their feed in response to proposed legislation in that country that would require them to pay publishers for their content. In just two days, the news vacuum filled up with misinformation and fake news. Fortunately, Facebook reinstated news and the legislation passed in Australia. Now, the rest of the world is moving in the same direction, and citizens need to get behind this movement.
The First Amendment protects news from government regulation, but not from the de facto regulation of Facebook and Google, who can decide what content people get to see and when. They don’t show the kind of commitment to reliable, fair, trustworthy reporting that’s part of the legacy of traditional American journalism.
The solution is to give local news publishers the ability to band together to fight for their future. As things now stand, however, antitrust laws actually protect Big Tech from publishers taking any organized action.
That’s why we are asking our members of Congress, Rep. Steve Stivers and Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown , to support the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” (also known as the Safe Harbor Bill), which would give news publishers the ability to seek fair compensation for use of their content, and which would allow them to continue to invest in the critical newsgathering and reporting on which Americans depend.
With the passage of this bill, all news publishers, especially small and local publishers, would finally be able to ask the tech platforms for the compensation they need, and deserve.