Make Big Tech pay local newspapers for publishing their content

In the coming weeks, a group of bipartisan senators will advance a long-overdue reform that is designed to restore fairness to America’s most vital — yet endangered — industries: news, publishing and journalism.

Co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, the legislation — The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) — creates a “safe harbor” for news publishers to negotiate fair terms for use of their content by Big Tech companies on online platforms including Facebook News, Google News and social media generally.

While local journalism has been under active threat over the last two decades, Big Tech companies such as Alphabet and Meta have monopolized the news and publishing industries by not paying smaller and local operators to publish their content.

As a result, since 2005, the revenue produced by news publications across the country has declined by 58%, per the News Media Alliance. All the while, Google and Facebook have been able to capture up to 70% of digital advertising revenue when viewers use their online platforms to read an article from a small or local paper.

Put another way, by not paying them fairly for their content, Big Tech companies are actively driving local news outlets out of business — all while these monopolies get richer and more powerful.

The worst part? Under current U.S. antitrust laws, Big Tech’s market manipulation is legal.

The JCPA would change that and help usher in a new era of fairness for journalists and publishers. Notably, the text of the JCPA ensures that small and local publishers benefit most from the bill, and large national publications are excluded.

Recent modifications to the bill have increased the chances of its successful passage — including the introduction of a measure to placate union concerns as well as an addendum to ensure that dark money organizations such as the Russian state-controlled television network do not inadvertently benefit. Currently, Klobuchar is reportedly working to schedule a bill markup of the JCPA with Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin.

As lawmakers evaluate the JCPA’s practical and political merit leading up to the vote, members of both parties would be wise to consider the findings of recent polling on the subject, which was commissioned by the News Media Alliance, and found broad-based support for Congress’ acting to pass the JCPA and save local journalism.

Importantly, Congress’ passing the JCPA was supported by 70% of Americans nationally when the question was asked in early April.

Americans’ widespread support for the JCPA is grounded in their belief that the survival of local journalism is important — a sentiment that is held by 83% of Americans.

In an era of rampant disinformation, Americans clearly trust and value their local newspapers — yet, Big Tech’s monopolization of the news industry has caused local news to fall on hard times.

The United States has also lost nearly 1,800 papers over the last 17 years, and the vast majority of the remaining 7,000 or so local papers have a circulation of less than 15,000 each, on average, per researchers at UNC. As a result, thousands of communities across the country are on track to become “isolated news deserts,” and roughly two-thirds of U.S. counties — which are generally poorer counties with older and less educated citizens — already have no daily paper.

The collective American public is concerned about the survival of local journalism and is demanding action from their elected officials. Both parties now have a mandate to advance the JCPA, which our data indicates could also help these members politically.

Indeed, per our polling, 81% of Americans agree with a statement to this effect: “Congress needs to rein in Big Tech by passing reforms that would make the publishing industry fairer for smaller media entities and local operators.”

These findings present a call-to-action to our leaders who now have a clear mandate from their constituents to rein in Big Tech and save local journalism by passing the JCPA into law.

Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

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