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Local news is the bedrock of America’s democracy, holding leaders accountable and keeping residents informed about what’s happening in their communities. Without regular, high-quality news coverage, communities see increased government costs. People who are regular news consumers are also more civically engaged than those who don’t consume news regularly, and are more likely to vote and to donate to causes important to them.
Quality news will not be available if news publishers cannot monetize their content and reinvest in reporting and newsgathering efforts. The “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” makes this all possible. The duopoly of Facebook and Google have been chipping away at news publishers’ ability to continue to provide the quality news our communities need. Companies like Facebook and Google routinely profit off of news publishers’ original content. The duopoly earns 70 percent or more of every advertising dollar spent online, leaving publishers with literal pennies to help pay for news. That imbalance is part of why the news industry has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the past decade and why hundreds of communities have lost their local newspapers.
The “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act,” which Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, has signed on to support, would grant news publishers a limited antitrust safe harbor to negotiate with the tech platforms for better business terms to support journalism. Through the safe harbor, publishers big and small from Illinois — and all 50 states — would be able to join together to ask companies like Google and Facebook for terms that would permit them to continue to provide their communities with the quality journalism they depend on. News publications such as yours would be able to negotiate arrangements with the tech companies that would give you what you need most, so you can continue to give your readers the news they need most.
Without the safe harbor bill, not only will news publishers suffer, but so will your readers. Members of your communities rely on you every day to help keep them informed about what’s happening in their world, be it information about the roads they take to get to and from work, news about the local school board, how the local sports teams are faring and updates on state legislation. If news publishers can’t afford to pay journalists or continue publishing because they can’t get a better deal from the platforms, readers are the ones who truly lose.
We thank Senator Durbin for supporting quality journalism here in Illinois and across the country, and we encourage the rest of Congress, including Illinois’ full delegation, to sign on to the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” and show their support, as well.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act creates a temporary safe harbor for news publishers to band together to negotiate with online platforms to protect Americans’ access to trustworthy sources of news online. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act was introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives David N. Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, the chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, and Doug Collins, R-Georgia, the ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary, on April 3, 2019. It was introduced in the Senate on June 3, 2019, by Senators John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, the ranking member of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act establishes a 48-month safe harbor for the free press to band together to negotiate with dominant online platforms to improve the access to and the quality of news online. Importantly, the safe harbor is narrowly tailored to ensure that coordination by news publishers is only in the interest of promoting trust and quality journalism. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act allows coordination by news publishers only if it 1. Directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution or branding, or interoperability of news; 2. Benefits the entire industry, rather than just a few publishers, and is non-discriminatory to other news publishers; and 3. Is directly related to and reasonably necessary for these negotiations, instead of being used for other purposes.
The free and diverse press — particularly local press — is the backbone of a healthy and vibrant democracy. But the control of access to trustworthy news online has become centralized by just two platforms. The Pew Research Center reported in 2017 that the majority of Americans access news through only two platforms — Facebook and Google — noting that “Facebook outstrips all other social media sites as a source of news.” Recent market reports also indicate that these same companies control the vast majority of online referrals for news and the bulk of digital advertising revenue, while revenue for news publishers has plummeted by $31 billion since 2006.
Free markets depend on an even playing field. But in the absence of a truly competitive landscape, innovation suffers, businesses fail, workers are laid off or have lower wages, and consumers are harmed through less choice and worse service. Instead of competing on an equal playing field, online platforms are able to dictate the terms of how Americans view news online. And as a result of the diminished revenue, thousands of journalists have been laid off. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the overall employment of reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts will decline 9% between 2016 and 2026, alongside declines in readership and circulation of newspapers.
The majority of Americans are “more concerned” that not enough is being done to address the “relentless spread of fake news on their platforms,” representing “a seismic shift in the public’s perception” in a short time on the issue, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63% of people say they can’t tell the difference between good journalism and falsehood online.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is supported by 48 state press associations, including the Illinois Press Association, representing 49 states.
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