Opinion: Big Tech is undermining a free press

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Local news is a pillar of democracy – providing critical information to communities and holding local public officials and powerful interests accountable.

When the Founding Fathers ensured protection for a free press in the First Amendment of the Constitution, they were safeguarding journalism from government control and meddling. However, they could have never envisioned a future where a handful of huge technology companies would control nearly all news and information.

Tech monopolies like Google and Facebook are stifling competition while enriching themselves at the expense of American institutions – namely, local journalism.

Local news is a pillar of democracy – providing critical information to communities and holding local public officials and powerful interests accountable. Moreover, local news is real life – the state basketball championship, the local firehouse’s pancake breakfast, the ribbon-cutting on a new community center.

But because of Big Tech’s monopolistic practices, local journalism is in jeopardy. As readers moved online, Google and Facebook rigged the financial bedrock of local journalism, the advertising market, for themselves.

With the advent of the internet, from 2000 to 2020, newspaper advertising revenue has declined 82 percent, nearly $40 billion. Newsrooms have been depleted, with the number of professional journalists and editors who report the news shrinking by 57 percent from 2004 to 2020.

And as local newsrooms struggle to stay afloat, Big Tech is filling the void with their platforms, fueled by algorithms optimized to keep readers outraged and at each other’s throats. All the while, their investors reap staggering profits from the dysfunction they inject into our public discourse.

Now, Google and Facebook largely dictate the terms of the entire online advertising ecosystem and have cut side deals for themselves and shortchanged publishers across the country.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google takes a cut of 22 to 42 percent of U.S. spending that goes through its systems – two to four times as much as the fees charged by rival digital advertising exchanges. An employee at Google said they can get away with it because “smaller pubs don’t have alternative revenue sources.”

Small and local publishers work hard to report real news and write content that matters, while Big Tech companies siphon off the digital ad revenue and erode the sanctity of our free press.

This is fundamentally unfair.

A bill that originated in the House and Senate Judiciary Committee is the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” (JCPA), S.673, which levels the playing field between Big Tech and small and local publishers by allowing news publishers to collectively negotiate fair terms for the use of their content by Big Tech companies.

The JCPA has also recently been refocused to exclusively benefit small and local publishers and ensure that the bill’s enforcement would be content-neutral, allowing outlets, regardless of their ideological leanings, to receive their fair share from Big Tech.

We call on Sen. Jon Ossoff, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee which is considering the bill, to support the commonsense provisions of the JCPA and the larger package of antitrust legislation.

The adage in Silicon Valley is to move fast and break things. Well, this saying has become a prophecy, and if these tech giants are not reined in in their pursuit of endless profit, they will break America’s free press. We need our leaders in Washington, including Sen. Ossoff, to be stewards of the First Amendment and champion measures that ensure fair markets and a free press.

The News/Media Alliance is a nonprofit organization representing nearly 2,000 diverse publishers in the United States.