Wesner: Big tech is steamrolling America's newspapers

Google and Facebook have enormous economic and political power in society — especially over the news industry. Many ask if they have played a role in the misinformation that erodes our free press and plagues our democracy.

Google and Facebook have a duopoly over the distribution of digital news content, and that drives people to their platforms where they make their money.

These platforms hoard critical data and use clever tactics, like reframing stories with rich previews, to keep users on their sites. In the process, they siphon off the advertising revenue that small and local publishers need, weakening their ability to reap reward for their own content.

Google and Facebook generated $4 million in U.S. advertising revenue every 15 minutes during the first quarter of 2022. That could fund hundreds of local journalists in every state in the country.

It’s no wonder then that, despite record news consumption, local newspapers across the country have seen diminished revenues, leading many to lay off journalists or go out of business. Local newspapers simply can’t compete with the national Google and Facebook platforms.

The imbalance of power between these platforms and local newspapers — let alone any single local paper — is so vast that newspapers cannot negotiate the exploitation of news. But antitrust laws shield Google and Facebook from the possibility of news publishers working together to demand better terms.

No company should have this much control over the news. Congress must take action to curb undue influence of Big Tech on the news media industry, and the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act aims to do just that.

JCPA is specifically designed to address the anticompetitive practices of Google and Facebook.

The proposed legislation would provide a temporary, limited antitrust safe harbor for small and local news publishers so they could collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google for fair compensation for the use of their content. It would also incentivize and reward publishers for investing in newsroom personnel, by awarding outlets with demonstrated investment in staff a larger portion of the funds that result from the negotiations.

By addressing the duopoly power of Google and Facebook, and thus ensuring more subscription and advertising dollars flow back to publishers, the JCPA would not only protect and promote quality news. It would also encourage competition.

In today’s partisan political climate, it is rare for Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything. But JCPA is one important exception.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree: We need to pass JCPA to ensure that publishers — especially small and local publishers — are treated fairly so they can better serve their communities.

In addition to chairing the board of the National Newspaper Association, Brett Wesner serves as president of Wesner Publications, based in Cordell, Oklahoma. 


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