Editorial: Native journalism might use some congressional assist in combat in opposition to Fb, Google

Like other businesses, your local news outlets struggle every day to convince customers that we’re worth the money.

On one side are those who would like to read us, but their generation has never developed the habit of the daily newspaper. They see a link to one of our articles that a friend posted on Facebook and get mad if they can’t open it without paying. This is a fight we believe we can win. We let them read enough free samples to convince them of the value a digital subscription would bring to their lives.

But there is a second fight, an existential one that threatens our digital business model. In that case, we mustn’t even fight back as the law is written, at least not in a meaningful way. This is our fight against the two social media giants Facebook and Google.

Facebook and Google publish our articles, sell ads, and pocket most of the profit. They give us little in return. Because of this, as newspaper readers turn to the Internet for news and our ability to sell newspaper ads, we have become more dependent on selling digital ads, but we have come under pressure.

With one hand, the two corporate giants are helping us by spreading our news. With the other, they get so much of the advertising revenue we generate that we can barely survive.

It’s killing us. Nationwide, 300 publications have been closed and more than 6,000 journalists deleted in the past two years.

84 Florida newspapers have died since 2004, and newspaper circulation has fallen 51%. 22 Florida counties have only one local news agency and five do not.

Palm Beach County, which has a population greater than 11 states, used to have three major newspapers hunted for shovels. Today there is the Palm Beach Post and its sister newspaper, the Palm Beach Daily News.

And like any other news company, the Post and Daily News have lost reporters to takeovers and layoffs. Those who stay stay because they believe in the mission, but how long?

The solution to social media printing is not the gradual cultural shift that we expect from our print readers and online users. It’s an instant regulatory knockback against Facebook and Google’s worst instincts.

News organizations need to build a unified front to negotiate a better and more sustainable deal with the tech giants. But, sad irony, to do so we would likely be breaking antitrust laws. We need Congress to lift these restrictions.

Gannett and the other large chains that own the majority of US newspapers are by no means small organizations. This is necessary as most local newspaper companies these days can only survive if they share resources under the umbrella of a chain and benefit from economies of scale. Still, our size pales in comparison to the tech duopoly that has cornered the digital ad sales market and that sets the rules of the game to its full advantage.

And in addition to us, hundreds of television and radio stations, smaller newspapers, and independent news producers have no hope of their own deal. So they desperately cut, work their way to the bone, but still go dark one by one. Every loss breaks our hearts. We stand in solidarity with them. Although we compete, we share a mission to provide accurate, timely, and thoughtful information to our readers.

As of 2018, Google and Facebook had nearly four times the sales of all older US news media combined. The two tech companies attracted 80% of digital advertising spend and 45% of all ad spend in the United States

It’s analogous to how Napster and file sharing threatened the record industry in the early 2000s. Until this industry spoke with one voice and all the labels came together to tell the public that the music had been stolen and that the artists couldn’t continue if it continued, the bleeding continued.

In fairness, our members of Congress – Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, and Brian Mast – and Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott should support the Law on Competition and Conservation of Journalists. The legislation, also known as the Safe Harbor Bill, would lift antitrust restrictions for four years to allow publishers to team up to negotiate fair compensation for news content with Facebook and Google.

Don’t shed a tear for the town screamers. We know that we are as exposed to changing market forces as anyone. But with market distortions threatening the blood of the local news, we have to untie our hands to fight for ourselves.

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