As scrutiny into the practices of large tech firms increases, the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Tuesday held a hearing on the impact platforms like Google and Facebook have on the media.
“All of these companies say the right things ー and they’ve put some charitable money behind trying to make publishers happy,” David Chavern, the president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, told Cheddar after testifying at the hearing. “We don’t need or want charity. What we want is a sustainable business relationship. And we haven’t gotten there yet.”
The News Media Alliance, formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America, is a trade association that represents about 2,000 newspapers in North America. Others who testified at the hearing included David Pitofsky, general counsel for News Corp and Sally Hubbard, the director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute.
At the hearing, lawmakers discussed the online advertising market, fact-checking, and fake news, among other topics.
Journalism, and even digital-first outlets, have for years struggled to sustain profitable business models. Outlets have typically relied on a combination of ad-revenue and subscriptions, but social media platforms and search engines, namely Facebook ($FB) and Google ($GOOGL), have forced publishers to compete with free content available across the entire internet, and not just their media peers.
Newsroom jobs have declined by nearly a quarter in the past decade, according to Pew.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that since the start of the millennium, newspaper industry jobs more broadly have been cut by half.
The power of tech platforms has motivated some politicians, and some journalists, to call for their breakup (though that may not be the only antitrust remedy available).
There’s also proposed legislation for the journalism industry specifically, titled the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, that would allow news organizations to organize collectively against large tech companies without facing pricing collusion violations themselves.
"Companies like Facebook and Google swallow up 60 percent of digital ad revenue, and so it doesn't leave much of the pie for the actual content creators, and for news publishers, which is why I got laid off in January, it's why local newspapers are going under," Laura Bassett, a former culture and political reporter for nearly 10 years at HuffPost, told Cheddar Tuesday.
The News Media Alliance has estimated that Google makes $4.7 billion from news every year, a number, which gained attention through a New York Times article just before the hearing.
But the Alliance’s calculations have faced pushback from media commentators and outlets like Nieman Lab and Intelligencer, since the eye-opening figure appears to be based on a single quote from 2008 from then Google vice president Marissa Mayer.
In an email to Cheddar, a Google spokesperson called these numbers “inaccurate” and “back of the envelope calculations.” The company argues that the study ignored what Google provides news sources, such as driving clicks ー Google says around 10 billion ー to publisher websites, which help develop outlets’ subscriptions and ad businesses.
“If you don’t like the study, there's two things that could happen. One, Google could actually — they have the information — they could reveal whatever they think the number is. Or, if somebody has a critique, talk about how else you could get at the number,” said Chavern. “But some of the critique seems to imply that we shouldn’t even ask, and I don’t get that at all.”