Newspaper executives are begging Congress to rescue their business model from predatory tech platforms, urging lawmakers to pass a bill that will allow them to bargain collectively and presumably restore their former glory.
Seven major newspaper publishers are lobbying for the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would give the newspaper industry four years of immunity from antitrust laws. That would enable them to bargain collectively with companies like Google and Facebook – which are, ironically, subject to several antitrust probes of their own, due to their outsize presence in the tech industry.
Executives from Tribune Publishing Company, Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, News Corp, Star Tribune, Gannett, Philadelphia Media Network, and Charleston Post and Courier descended on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with lawmakers from the districts where they publish and convince them of the severity of their plight.
“Our belief is that the current antitrust laws don’t allow us to work together,” Tribune CEO Timothy Knight told Axios.
Newspapers want more money for their content, which Facebook and Google have monetized by slathering the snippets they republish on their platforms with targeted ads. The papers also want more access to the troves of customer data that Big Tech platforms have amassed, as well as more prominent branding where stories are republished. But one newspaper publisher can hardly convince a multibillion-dollar tech behemoth to heed its will, laments the News Media Alliance, which is behind the bill, arguing that what’s left of the industry must band together if it is to have any effect.
“The major tech platforms act as our regulators,” News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern complained in June, shortly after publishing a study claiming Google made $4.7 billion from news content in 2018.
They stand between news publishers and most of our readers, and determine everything about the relationship.
According to the Alliance, Google and Facebook control 60 percent of all US digital advertising and 90 percent of online ad revenue growth.
Facebook has offered some mainstream outlets as much as $3 million per year to use their headlines, excerpts, and stories on its soon-to-be-unveiled “news” tab, at least according to early reports. However, the companies lobbying Congress are not among the big names tapped for inclusion in the new feature. It’s not known which, if any, outlets have accepted the offer, but with over 3,200 jobs in online news media lost in 2019 alone, they may not have had much of a choice. Mid-level outlets didn’t even get the offer to sell out.
Forming a newspaper cartel to fight the Big Tech “duopoly” (as the Alliance refers to Google and Facebook) isn’t sitting well with smaller independent publishers, who fear being shut out of the negotiations or muscled into business models that don’t serve them. Meanwhile, some newspaper publishers view the bill as a refusal to see the writing on the wall. The Times of San Diego called it “an attempt by America’s fading newspaper companies to protect their outdated business model while they double down on their aging Baby Boomer audience.”