Bipartisanship Is Alive to Save Local News from Big Tech

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June 11, 2019

By Justin Chermol

In an era of entrenched political partisanship, it is rare for an issue to receive bipartisan backing. Yet two lawmakers from across the aisle have teamed up to support local news outlets against big tech companies like Facebook and Google.

"I am glad that you and I have found some commonality on this, and I'm looking forward to working together," Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, told Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on Tuesday during a hearing on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which the two lawmakers co-sponsored.

The House committee's inquiry into the competition in digital markets comes after massive layoffs in the media and news industry. Just this year, the sector suffered 2,900 layoffs from companies like CNN, GateHouse Media, BuzzFeed, Vice, Verizon, and others.

"Companies like Facebook and Google swallow up 60 percent of digital ad revenue, and so it doesn't leave much of the pie for 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.

Bassett, who was laid off from the website, is now the founder of the Save Journalism Project, an initiative that raises awareness of the dominance of tech giants over the news industry.

"Journalism is vital to a healthy democracy," she added.

The battle between local media and tech firms ultimately comes down to advertising revenue, and its key role in keeping a publisher afloat. Cicilline and Collins proposed bill would give news publishers a four year antitrust exemption so these companies could organize against big tech to collectively bargain and even the playing field. The bill has received support from over 200,000 local and national news publications and 44 state press associations.

"This will help protect journalism, promote competition and allow communities to stay informed,” Collins said in a statement in April.

Collins said Tuesday the bill does not promise the break up of big tech companies.

"If individual news outlets could count on being able to negotiate fair attribution and advertising revenue agreements with the online platforms, the bleeding could be stopped," Collins said at the committee meeting called 'Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 1: The Free and Diverse Press.' "The problem, however, is that smaller news organizations don't stand a fair negotiating chance when they try to negotiate deals with the platform giants."

Among witnesses who testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee were David Chavern, the president of News Media Alliance, a trade association representing nearly 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as David Pitofsky, general counsel for News Corp.

Platforms like Facebook ($FB) and Google ($GOOGL) "have little, if any commitment to accuracy or reliability. For them, a news article is valuable if viral, not verified," Pitofsky told lawmakers.

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