Local journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and a vital source of information for communities across the country, with newsrooms covering local politics, college sports, local business openings, cultural events and other matters that help a community stay vibrant and connected. But the industry faces an existential crisis because of the unrelenting power of big tech platforms like Google and Facebook.
With this Congress lasting less than four weeks, now is the time for the Senate to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The JCPA was reported favorably out of committee on September 22 with strong bipartisan support and must now step forward to vote. The JCPA would hold tech giants accountable and provide a necessary lifeline for local newspapers by asking big tech to compensate small and local outlets for using their content.
Big Tech profits enormously from journalistic content, but refuses to pay local publishers fairly for the journalistic content that powers their platforms. As a result, local newspapers are being replaced by technology platforms that use black-box algorithms to keep users inside their walled gardens — all while charging exorbitant ad fees that account for 70% of the country’s ad revenue.
US newspaper circulation has halved since 2000, and in 2020 there were 31 million fewer daily newspapers in circulation. The vast majority of US counties without a regular newspaper – “news deserts” – are in rural areas. Despite record numbers in online audiences since news outlets switched to digital media, revenues have fallen drastically.
The tech giants have built their empires by capitalizing on the hard work of journalists without adequately compensating them. As local publications struggle to stay afloat, Big Tech has only doubled down on its anti-competitive practices and further tightened its control over the flow of information.
This is fundamentally unfair, and the JCPA would bring about much-needed change.
The JCPA would only benefit small and local publishers, with severe penalties if the tech platforms did not deal with them in good faith. The bill has a limited six-year scope to address a broken market while the broader competitive landscape is determined by other laws and courts.
The JCPA would also encourage publishers to hire more journalists and protect our constitutional freedoms of speech and the press. The scope of the bill is limited to compensation and would not allow negotiations over news content viewing – it would only serve to ensure fair compensation for local news outlets. The JCPA has strict transparency requirements on the terms of any agreement reached between technology platforms and journalism providers and would provide clarity on how news outlets spend the funds they receive.
News publishers around the world are being compensated by Big Tech. Australia adopted a policy similar to the JCPA, the News Media Bargaining Code, for media organizations to negotiate payments, which has resulted in significant revenue (billions of dollars if transferred to the US market) for hundreds of publications of all sizes .
A Sydney journalism professor noted that she hadn’t seen her industry this financially robust in decades. There are so many vacancies for reporters that not all can be filled, a signal of the industry’s improved economic health. The rapid and clear successes of the Australian Code – and efforts in other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union – should serve to encourage adoption of the JCPA in the United States.
Thousands of hometown newspapers from across the political spectrum, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, support the JCPA. Additionally, in these highly polarized times, polling data has revealed that 70% of Americans support the JCPA. The JCPA has such broad support because it is ultimately about fundamental fairness.
Local newspapers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech use and abuse. The time to act is dwindling. Unless Congress acts soon, we risk social media becoming America’s de facto local newspaper.
The Senate must advance the JCPA to a Senate vote before the end of the year to rein in big tech and restore fairness to local journalism — one of the most important controls we have against corporate power and government corruption — before it’s too late.
– The Editor, Bay Area News Group