Editorial: Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill good for local news
Google and Facebook, on average, earn as much as 70% of every advertising dollar spent online. And as more people turn to the internet for their news, newspaper publishers are forced to play by the rules set by those tech giants, who not only control how that news is seen and prioritized but also cash in on the advertising that’s placed alongside that content.
Say what you want about the future of the news industry, but you are, after all, reading this. Thousands of others will read it too.
The industry has seen interest in the news rise during one of the most newsworthy years in history, creating a curious conundrum. The past 12 months were marked by a worldwide pandemic, social unrest and a presidential election, creating a massive appetite for news consumption. Yet news companies nationwide are struggling, due to giant competitors that have gained an unfair advantage.
A bill cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, might help. It would provide a so-called “safe harbor” from antitrust laws, over a 48-month period, for news companies to collectively negotiate how their content is distributed on places like Google and Facebook.
The struggle for many news agencies to survive is odd considering the contrasting numbers. Since 2014, traffic to the top 50 news websites has risen more than 39%, yet newspaper circulation has been cut nearly in half since 2002, according to the News Media Alliance. And since 2005, the organization says, revenue produced by U.S. news publications has fallen by some 58%.
And then last year — again, an epic time for news — more than 16,100 jobs were lost in the news industry, according to the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Since 2008, newsroom staff numbers have been cut in half, according to Pew Research.
How can that be, if readership continues to be high and Americans are turning to local news more than ever?
It’s because your local newspaper — the very newspaper you’re reading right now — is constantly fighting against massive tech companies that use local news for their own profit.
Here’s how: Google and Facebook, on average, earn as much as 70% of every advertising dollar spent online. And as more people turn to the internet for their news, newspaper publishers are forced to play by the rules set by those tech giants, who not only control how that news is seen and prioritized but also cash in on the advertising that’s placed alongside that content.
It’s affecting newspapers big and small. In Minnesota, Klobuchar’s home state, more than 80 newspapers have closed since 2004.
By allowing temporary safe harbor, publishers could join together to negotiate revenue-sharing terms from big tech companies. At present, that’s nearly impossible.
Facebook will happily accept the news published by the Northwood (N.D.) Gleaner, the Norman County (Minn.) Index or the Miner County (S.D.) Pioneer, but it certainly has no interest in negotiating a revenue-sharing agreement with those weekly newspapers, let alone a better agreement of how that small-town news is used or distributed. Even Forum Communications, which owns this newspaper and many others in the Dakotas and Minnesota, cannot hope to fairly negotiate with Google or Facebook.
Thankfully, Klobuchar — whose bill will be introduced Thursday, March 11 — gets it.
“It’s more important than ever that we protect the free press and establish an even playing field for negotiation with online platforms,” she said during the early stages of development on her bill. “Our bipartisan legislation will improve the quality and accessibility of reporting and ensure that journalists are able to continue their critical work.”
Thank you, Sen. Klobuchar, for this effort.
This editorial represents the opinion of Forum Communications Co. management.