Nationwide, newspaper publishers are now resisting their products’ loss of prestige and advertising, suctioned off by giant cyber firms.
At last, what’s really encouraging in our democracy is that Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem to be providing bipartisan support for local newspapers.
According to the Washington Post, new legislation in the House and Senate would provide a temporary “safe harbor” — a four-year anti-trust exemption for news publishers as they negotiate with Google and Facebook over how new content is used and how advertising dollars are distributed.
“It does seem like we’re getting somewhere,” David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, which represents 2,000 news publishers — mostly local newspapers, but also some national papers (including the Washington Post) and digital-only news sites, said.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) sees the two tech giants — Google and Facebook, often called the duopoly — as far too powerful in their damaging control of the news kingdom.
“They’ve pitted themselves against newspapers in a David and Goliath battle in which newspapers don’t have a stone to throw, much less a slingshot to put it in,” Kennedy said in a statement.
The Senate co-sponsor is Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The House version of the Journalism Competition and Preservation, which was introduced in April, is co-sponsored by Georgia Republican Douglas A. Collins and Rhode Island Democrat David N. Cicilline.
Print advertising, the life-blood of newspapers, fell precipitously more than a decade ago and they’ve struggled to stay profitable enough to survive. Only a handful have managed to increase digital subscriptions enough to make a real difference.
And, sadly, many newspapers already have folded. The United States has lost 1,800 newspapers (mostly weeklies since 2004) according to a University of North Carolina study of “news deserts” — areas in America that have no regular news coverage.
Any of those remaining, about 7,000, including the Antelope Valley Press, are hollowed out after round after round of cost-cutting layoffs. Newsrooms lost nearly half their staffs between 2008 and 2017, a Pew Research study said.
“They’re going to disappear,” famed investor Warren Buffett said, in a recent interview with Yahoo News, discussing what he sees as the fate of most local newspapers. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns dozens of daily and weekly papers.
The Post story said that “It’s encouraging to see the newspaper publishers better organized and more aggressive than in the past. They even managed last year, to help get the Trump administration’s new tariffs on Canadian newsprint (used for U.S. newspapers) overturned.
The Post article said, “It’s even more encouraging to see senators and representatives understand the value that local newspapers bring to their constituents.”
Facebook and Google, meanwhile, are mostly staying quiet about this, but tech-industry advocates want to portray this collective bargaining as collusion, Roll Call reported this week.
The Post writer Margaret Sullivan said, “But a temporary waiver, while newspapers try to right themselves at a critical time, is more than a good idea. It’s essential.
“When local newspapers fail, all kinds of bad things happen,” she said. “Various studies have shown that civic engagement falls off, government spending goes up and unreliable or made-up stories get a stronger foothold. We lose our village squares, our ways of making sense of the world with shared facts and our ability to hold public officials to account. As for Google and Facebook, if fewer ad dollars go their way in the service of local journalism’s survival, I’m confident they will manage somehow,” Sullivan wrote.
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