Guest Editorials, Opinion

Time is running out for Congress to save local news

Local journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and a vital source of information for communities across the country, with newsrooms covering local politics, high school sports, local business openings, cultural events and other matters that help a community remain vibrant and connected. But the industry is facing an existential crisis because of the unyielding power of Big Tech platforms such as Google and Facebook.

With less than four weeks left in this Congress, now is the time for the Senate to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The JCPA was favorably reported out of committee on Sept. 22 with strong bipartisan support and now must head to the floor for a vote. The JCPA would hold tech giants accountable and provide a necessary lifeline for local papers, requiring Big Tech to compensate small and local outlets for the use of their content.

Big Tech benefits tremendously from journalism content, yet they refuse to pay local publishers fairly for the journalistic content that fuels their platforms. As a result, local papers are being replaced by tech platforms using black-box algorithms designed to keep users inside their walled gardens — all while charging exorbitant ad fees that consume 70% of the nation’s advertising revenue.

The tech giants have built their empires by profiting off of the hard work of journalists without fairly compensating them. As local publications struggle to stay afloat, Big Tech has only doubled down on their anti-competitive practices, further consolidating their control over the flow of information.

The JCPA would benefit small and local publishers exclusively. The bill has a limited scope of six years to address a broken marketplace, while the broader competitive landscape is fixed through other legislation and the courts.

The JCPA would also incentivize publishers to hire more journalists and protect our constitutional freedoms of speech and the press. The bill’s scope is limited to compensation and would not allow for negotiations around display of news content — it would serve only to ensure fair compensation for local news outlets. The JCPA has strict transparency requirements on the terms of each agreement reached between tech platforms and journalism providers and would establish clarity in how news outlets spend the funds they receive.

News publishers around the world are being compensated by Big Tech. Australia passed a similar policy to the JCPA, the News Media Bargaining Code, for media organizations to bargain for payment, which has produced significant revenue (billions of dollars, if translated to the U.S. market).

The swift and clear successes of the Australian Code — and efforts in other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union — should serve to encourage the passage of the JCPA in the United States.

Local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse. The time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.

This editorial first appeared in the Contra Costa Times. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.