Thomas Jefferson said, “If it were up to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.
Jefferson knew that local newspapers were essential to a thriving democracy, and that notion is as true today as it was in the beginning of our nation. Americans know it too. They trust their local news outlets, even in this highly fractured and partisan time. Compared to national news, six in 10 Americans trust local news more to report stories that affect their daily lives, and they are about twice as likely to trust local news to report the information they need to vote. .
Despite our reliance on local news, too many communities today are rushing to Jefferson’s worst fear, but in ways he never could have imagined. About two newspapers have closed every week since 2005. Instead of the government stifling journalism, local newspapers are regularly shut down due to the unchecked influence of two private entities: Google and Facebook.
The main challenge for smaller news publishers is that Google and Facebook have hampered local media‘s ability to be fairly compensated for the significant value their content generates for these platforms. Big Tech has commoditized and disconnected news content from its sources, undermining the advertising business that served as the foundation of the newspaper industry. Big
Tech platforms control virtually every aspect of online advertising activity and use clever tactics to keep users on their sites and rob publishers of the ability to monetize their content.
Faced with this anti-competitive behavior, it is not surprising that local newspapers are struggling. By 2022, more than a fifth of Americans live in information deserts. And 1,625 counties have only one newspaper, while more than 200 have no local newspapers. Social media is increasingly filling the void with unreliable sources and misinformation and becoming America’s de facto local news source.
The Big Tech threat to local journalism won’t go away on its own, and the cost of inaction is too high to ignore. Congress must act.
Of the antitrust bills Congress is considering this year, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) is the only one to provide direct scrutiny against anticompetitive tactics by Google and Facebook that endanger local newspapers.
Ironically, Big Tech is protected by US antitrust laws, which prevent local newspapers from trading as a group. The JCPA would provide a temporary, limited antitrust haven for small, local news publishers to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google for fair compensation for the use of their content. It is narrowly tailored to ensure that coordination by news editors only aims to protect trustworthy and quality journalism.
JCPA critics repeated Big Tech’s argument that the bill would primarily help large national publications. However, the JCPA is specifically designed to help small and medium-sized newspapers and would help redirect subscription and advertising dollars to their newsrooms. Major national publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times will not be eligible. The bill also encourages publishers to invest in hiring new journalists and editorial staff. In fact, publishers who demonstrate their investment will receive a higher share of traded funds.
As Big Tech devalues high-quality journalism in favor of provocative and divisive clickbait, the prospect of layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs has become a daily reality for local journalists.
While critics of the JCPA bicker over utopian solutions, local publishers, who recognize the urgency of reviving local news, strongly support the JCPA. They recognize that the JCPA is the only bill that will put them on a level playing field with the tech giants.
Join me in calling on your congressional representatives to prioritize the passage of the JCPA to protect their constituents’ access to objective, quality local reporting – and to ensure that the fear of Thomas Jefferson of a democracy without robust journalism never comes true.
America’s Newspapers is the trade association for thousands of newspapers across the United States. www.newspapers.org