If you can’t beat them and you can’t join them, then, by all means, regulate them. That’s what an initiative by the big boys in the newspaper business seems to be saying with something called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.
Executives from the LA Times, Gannett, the Tribune Publishing Company, and more, appeared in Washington to meet with legislators this week. Their aim: Get Congress to force Facebook and Google to pay newspapers for articles that are taken and distributed online. With the massive growth of the internet in the information age, the newspaper business has fallen on hard times indeed. Just how bad is it?
Newspaper executives rightly see the extinction of their businesses dead ahead, and this is an effort to at least slow down the inevitable. Let’s just say they don’t want to go down without a fight. And where do all leftists turn when the marketplace no longer responds to them? Why, the government, of course.
This isn’t to say the scribes don’t have a point. The leviathan tech platforms take snippets from these newspapers and republish them with – in the words of Donald Trump – “big, beautiful” ads that target their own audience. Monetizing other people’s work is frankly the stock and trade of the digital world.
For instance, at this juncture, Liberty Nation does not post advertisements for other people’s products. But those who reprint our content monetize our work all the time. The only difference between what Google et al. are doing to us and what they do to the Los Angeles Times is that we aren’t complaining.
It’s estimated that digital advertising brings in about $5.1B annually. On June 9 of this year, The New York Times moaned that Google made $4.7B off newspaper content in 2018. It quoted David Chavern, the president and CEO of an alliance that represents about two thousand papers, as saying, “They make money off this arrangement, and there needs to be a better outcome for news publishers.”
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act seeks to make the large tech companies bargain with newspapers collectively: To do that, the publishers need an exemption from antitrust laws. They know their whining will go unheeded if they try to make the digital goliaths pay up individually. But together? Well, this is the reason unions exist, isn’t it? If the news business can talk legislators into permitting it to act as a union then the internet giants will have to pay to play.
Facebook has offered to fork over a dribble of its profits to some of the larger publishers. It has put $3M on the table as a bargaining chip to use articles, excerpts, and headlines from these newspapers. Interestingly, the outlets offered the money aren’t the same ones in the alliance, according to one report from RT.com.
Resistance is Futile
One can almost hear the arguments that publishers will make to legislators willing to hear them out. If newspapers go the way of the dodo bird, there will be a massive job loss, a national degradation of quality information, and no motive for the Save the Trees people to complain. Ok, that last one is tongue in cheek, but you get the picture.
So, will those being offered a relatively paltry sum by Facebook sell out their brethren? You bet. Desperate people often make impulsive decisions. Chances are these publishers will take the money and run, unless, of course, they can get a better deal from Congress. And when it comes to caving into the desires of the illustrious Fourth Estate or spending taxpayer money, legislators are notoriously unable to spell that ever-important two-letter word: No.
So be on the lookout for some type of bipartisan approval of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will want to be the one to drive the final nail in the coffin of the newspaper business. But as many a corporate giant that has received help from the government and gone under can tell you, intervention may keep the beast at bay – but death is inevitable.