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Big Tech’s outsized footprint means it’s time to help save local journalism

Congressman Burgess Owens weighs in

In this July 29, 2020, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks via video conference during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Graeme Jennings, Associated Press

We the People — the most powerful three words in our nation’s history — is built on the principles of democracy and freedom. Our Founding Fathers understood that preserving what they meticulously created requires a free and vibrant flow of information.

That job has been entrusted to local news, who, throughout history, have maintained transparency of our governing institutions, held officials accountable, and kept Americans informed and connected.

As our nation weathers constant change, the public’s demand for information — and trustworthy information — including local news, continues to rise, reaching nearly 136 million U.S. adults each week.

The problem is that quality journalism is expensive to produce. As we shift toward a heavy digital footprint, newspapers continue to take substantial hits in profit, causing layoffs and knockouts to this long-standing industry. Despite increased readership, revenue produced by American news outlets has dropped by 58% since 2005. In Utah alone, 17 newspapers have closed their doors since 2004, and newspaper circulation has declined by 45%, according to the News Media Alliance.

A press worker checks a newspaper as the last daily edition of the Deseret News is printed at the MediaOne building in West Valley City on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.
A press worker checks a copy of the Deseret News. Many community newspapers have closed across the country. The Deseret News has expanded its digital offerings and now publish a weekly print edition and monthly magazine.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

With Big Tech’s soaring footprint, the future of local news is at stake. Most Americans access their news through Facebook and Google, two tech giants that effectively control the online news market — and the information we see every day — through duopoly. News publishers are forced to play by their rules, making it nearly impossible to collaborate to negotiate fair policies and free practices with these online platforms without running afoul of antitrust laws.

Antitrust laws, meant to promote consumer welfare, now presume a baseline of competition that simply does not exist in the current marketplace. Most individual news organizations are unable to challenge the basic terms offered by Big Tech. Facebook and Google are too big and too influential.

This begs the question — what steps can we take to preserve the free press, regain consumer confidence and create accountability over Big Tech?

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation, developed on both sides of the aisle, that establishes a four-year safe harbor from antitrust restrictions that allow news publishers — big and small — to band together and negotiate with players in Big Tech.

A short-term indulgence from antitrust restrictions is the lightest-touch solution to the danger quality journalism is currently facing. Unlike other proposals to support local news, an exemption such as this would not cost taxpayer dollars or threaten the free flow of information. It would simply give newspapers more bargaining power to resist the undue demands of the tech duopoly.

Rep. Burgess Owens is the U.S. Representative for Utah’s 4th congressional district.