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, 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. The JCPA was reported favorably out of committee on September 22 with strong bipartisan support and must now step forward to vote. The JCPA will hold tech giants accountable and provide a much-needed lifeline for local newspapers by requiring Big Tech to compensate small and local outlets for using their content.
Big Tech profits enormously from journalistic content, but refuses to pay publishers fairly. 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 of up to 70% of every ad dollar.
US newspaper circulation has fallen by half since 2000. The vast majority of counties without a regular newspaper – “news deserts” – are in rural areas. Despite record ratings, revenues have fallen drastically since news outlets switched to digital media.
The tech giants have built their empires by capitalizing on the hard work of journalists without adequately compensating them. And while 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 will bring about much-needed change.
The JCPA will only benefit small and local publishers and impose severe penalties if the tech platforms do 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 also incentivizes publishers to hire more journalists and protects our constitutional freedoms of speech and the press. The scope of the bill does not allow for negotiations for a upgrade/demotion or reporting – it is only intended to ensure fair compensation for local news outlets. The JCPA has strict transparency requirements and provides clarity on how news outlets spend the funds they receive.
News publishers around the world are being compensated by Big Tech. Australia adopted a similar policy for media organizations to negotiate payments, which has resulted in significant revenue for hundreds of publications of all sizes. A Sydney journalism professor noted that she hadn’t seen her industry this financially robust in decades. The rapid and clear successes of Australia’s Code – and efforts in Canada, Britain, the European Union and others – should encourage adoption of the JCPA.
Thousands of hometown newspapers, as well as 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, ultimately, it is about fundamental fairness. Local newspapers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech use and abuse. Unless Congress acts soon, we risk social media becoming America’s de facto local newspaper.
The Senate must get the JCPA to speak before the end of the year to restore fairness to local journalism — one of the most important controls we have against corporate power and government corruption — before it’s too late.
This column was produced by the News/Media Alliance, of which this newspaper is a member, and is published in newspapers across the country.