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Opinion: The battle between Big Tech and journalism could end with this bill

Average people may not think much about this as they scroll through news feeds on popular internet platforms, but much of the content they read was produced by local news organizations and is being used without fair compensation

SHARE Opinion: The battle between Big Tech and journalism could end with this bill
The Deseret News office is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

The Deseret News office is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Newspapers nationwide are running editorials today in favor of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which passed a Senate committee with bipartisan support in September and has been waiting ever since for a floor vote.

The bill would give news outlets an exemption from antitrust laws in order for them to jointly negotiate with big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. 

This may sound like a technical, in-house problem for the local news industry alone. In fact, it is anything but. It affects every aspect of how you become informed about your community and your place in it.

Average people may not think much about this as they scroll through news feeds on popular internet platforms, but much of the content they read was produced by local news organizations and is being used without fair compensation. 

This unfair use of content is a big reason many local news organizations today are struggling financially and being forced out of business.

We join our voice with others in urging passage of this act.

Through innovation and, frankly, hard work, The Deseret News now extends far beyond the model of a traditional tossed-on-your-doorstep daily newspaper. We are a multiplatform media company providing news, commentary and perspectives important not just to the Intermountain West, but to the nation and other parts of the globe. We deliver it to you digitally everyday, and continue to provide print newspapers and Deseret Magazine, begun nearly two years ago.

Our original content is just as vulnerable to Big Tech as that of any other news organization.

In an opinion piece widely published today, David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, noted that Big Tech benefits greatly from the content created by journalists, “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 — up to 70% of every advertising dollar.”

Americans like to decry the increasing power of social media, and for good reason. Big Tech platforms jumble important news with items that are trivial or misleading. They erode public trust and cheapen community ties. Local news organizations, by contrast, help create a sense of community while informing people about important events. They build and strengthen civic ties, and they are imbued with a sense of history and place. The Deseret News has been continually publishing in Salt Lake City since 1850. No other business knows that community better.

Chavern said the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would “impose severe penalties if the tech platforms do not negotiate with them in good faith.” The bill would be in effect for only six years, and its “scope is limited to compensation and does not allow for negotiations around up/down ranking or display — it serves only to ensure fair compensation for local news outlets.”

Other nations already have similar laws. In Australia, for example, this has provided enough revenue to help once-struggling news outlets thrive. 

“One Sydney journalism professor noted that she hadn’t seen her industry so financially robust in decades,” Chavern wrote. “There are so many open positions for reporters, they cannot all be filled, a signal of the improved economic health of the industry.”

This is not an issue entangled with either conservative or liberal ideologies. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. That’s because all Americans ought to be able to understand the importance of strong local media.

“If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper,” Chavern wrote.

Congress should push this bill to the top of the agenda for the upcoming lame-duck session. Local journalism is a strong check against corruption and abuses in any community, whether by governments or corporations. The stronger these news outlets are, on any platform, the stronger America’s communities become.