EDITORIAL: It’s time Big Tech paid for news content

Since 2000, the U.S. has lost nearly half of its newspaper circulation, with 31 million fewer daily newspapers in circulation, according to Pew Research. Meanwhile, for those independent newspapers still in existence, their advertising revenue fell from $49.4 billion in 2005 to an estimated $9.6 billion in 2020.

The main culprit threatening local journalism today? Big Tech.

Google and Facebook have rigged the system by stealing the content created by local newspapers and monetizing it for themselves, by directing traffic to their own sites. They also censor what content is seen or is not seen, drowning out or outright silencing strong conservative voices.

Google and Facebook dominate more than 60% of ad spending online and 45% of all ad spending with the U.S. Two-thirds of all Google searches don’t even result in a click outside Google. While local newspapers lost nearly $40 billion in ad revenue from 2005 to 2020, Google’s advertising revenue spiked from $6.1 billion to $146 billion over this same period of time.

Since its acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007, Google has acted as a middleman between online advertisers and publishers, pocketing about half of all online sales. So, for example, if a local business spends $500 to advertise on our pages, The Washington Times will receive $250 and the tech giant gets $250.

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To make matters worse, U.S. antitrust laws are structured in a way to protect larger news outlets from competition with smaller ones. News outlets like The Washington Times are prohibited from joining with the Washington Examiner or others to bargain collectively with Google for better online placement and increased pay for our content. News Corp., Disney and CBS have the financial heft to leverage better results from Big Tech.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which is being debated in the Senate, would change all that.

The bipartisan bill would force Big Tech to pay for the content it aggregates, by allowing publishers with less than 1,500 employees to collectively bargain. Bigger news outlets would be prohibited from arranging special side deals with Big Tech or be faced with steep penalties. No publisher can be excluded from the process for ideological reasons. A federal arbiter would help in the negotiation and ensure fair terms were given to news organizations in return for use of their content online. Such arrangements have already been employed in Australia, to great results.

The bill was introduced by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Louisiana Republican John Kennedy. It advanced out of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on a 15-7 vote last week after Ms. Klobuchar struck a deal with Texas Republican Ted Cruz to strengthen wording in the legislation to prohibit the media and Big Tech from negotiating over or agreeing to censor content.

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“This is a major win for free speech and it strikes a blow against the virtual monopoly that Big Tech has to limit the information that Americans see online,” Mr. Cruz said of the bill after the amendment was adopted. “The bottom line is Big Tech hated this bill from the start and now they hate it even more.”

Recent polling by Schoen Cooperman Research, commissioned by the News Media Alliance, shows broad public support for the JCPA. Nearly 4 in 5 Americans are concerned Big Tech companies have too much power over the news and publishing industries and manipulate these industries for their own gain. Seventy-six percent agree that “Big Tech’s monopoly over the news and publishing industries is a threat to the free press and unfair to publishers, especially to small and local outlets.”

It’s time for Congress to work to level the playing field. We commend the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for advancing the JCPA last week and offer our continued support for this bill to become law.

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