Local journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and an important source of information for communities across the country, with newsrooms covering local politics, high school sports, business openings, cultural events and other issues that help a community stay vibrant and connected. But the industry is facing an existential crisis due to the unyielding power of Big Tech platforms like Google and Facebook.
With less than four weeks left in this Congress, the time is now for the Senate to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The JCPA was favorably reported out of committee on September 22 with strong bipartisan support and must now go to the floor for a vote. The JCPA will hold tech giants accountable and provide a necessary lifeline for local newspapers, requiring Big Tech to compensate small and local outlets for the use of their content.
Big Tech benefits enormously from journalistic content, but they refuse to pay publishers fairly. As a result, local newspapers are being replaced by tech platforms that use black-box algorithms designed to keep users inside their walled gardens—all while charging exorbitant advertising fees, up to 70% of every advertising dollar.
Since 2000, US newspaper circulation has fallen by half. The vast majority of counties without a regular newspaper – “news deserts” – are in rural areas. Despite record audiences, revenue has fallen drastically since news channels switched to digital.
The tech giants have built their empires by taking advantage of the hard work of journalists without fairly compensating them. And as local publications struggle to stay afloat, Big Tech has only redoubled their anti-competitive practices, further consolidating their control over the flow of information. This is fundamentally unfair, and the JCPA will bring about much-needed change.
The JCPA will exclusively favor small and local publishers and impose severe penalties if the tech platforms do not negotiate with them in good faith. The bill has a limited scope of six years to address a broken marketplace, while the broader competitive landscape is fixed through other legislation and the courts.
The JCPA also encourages publishers to hire more journalists and protects our constitutional freedom of speech and press. The bill’s scope does not allow for negotiations over up/down ranking or airing — it serves only to ensure fair compensation for local news outlets. The JCPA has strict requirements for transparency and creates clarity in how news organizations spend the money they receive.
News publishers around the world are compensated by Big Tech. Australia adopted a similar policy for media organizations to haggle over payment, which has brought significant revenue to hundreds of publications of all sizes. A journalist in Sydney noted that she had not seen her industry so financially robust in decades. The rapid and clear success of the Australian Code – and efforts in Canada, the UK, the European Union and more – should encourage adoption of the JCPA.
Thousands of hometown newspapers, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, support the JCPA. Also, in these highly polarized times, polls show that 70% of Americans support the JCPA.
The JCPA has such broad support because it is ultimately about fundamental justice. Local newspapers cannot afford to endure years of Big Tech’s use and abuse. Unless Congress acts soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.
The Senate must advance the JCPA to the floor before the end of the year to restore fairness to local journalism—one of the most important checks and balances 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.