A bill allowing small, local news outlets to negotiate for a cut of the profits generated when their content is distributed on social media and search engines is listed on next week’s Senate agenda.
The Journalism Compensation and Preservation Act (JCPA) provides a safe harbor to small media companies that would allow them to collectively negotiate terms with online content distributors, such as Facebook and Google, for distributing their work. The bill is scheduled to move before the Senate Judiciary Committee for markup in September following the holiday recess.
“Big Tech keeps most of the profit for no work. That’s fundamentally unfair,” said Chris Reen, president and CEO of Clarity Media Group and publisher of The Denver Gazette and The Colorado Springs Gazette.
Reen said Big Tech companies collect 70% of the profits generated from the distribution of local news organizations’ digital content. He spoke during a press briefing on Aug. 24 hosted by the News/Media Alliance, which advocates for the bill.
“Passing this bipartisan legislation will be transformative for our industry and absolutely essential for the survival of local news,” Reen said.
He said two local newspapers die every week, and 70 million Americans live in a news desert or an area at risk of becoming a news desert.
“While Google and Facebook are amassing billions of dollars in advertising revenue, small, local and independent media companies like ours which support the quality content that fuels these platforms have to fight for scraps,” he said.
Danielle Coffey, News/Media Alliance executive vice president and general counsel, said that signing the bill into law would not likely resurrect shuttered newspapers, but it would provide a boon to journalists, media outlets and communities.
“What I do see is increased reporting, news gathering and dissemination of content digitally where there is an actual revenue stream and reward for investing in that journalism. Where there are already papers, if not seven days [a week], they will get thicker. Reporters will show up at town hall meetings again. They will cover things that need to be covered in these communities,” she said.
Coffey said the bill was first introduced four years ago in a majority Republican Senate, and it now has 80 sponsors in both Chambers. In addition, 215 outside organizations and advocacy groups also support it.
“Our biggest enemy is the clock,” she said, adding that the organization is working to pass the bill through work sessions and onto the Senate floor.
She said four revisions were recently made that will strengthen the bill. This included refocusing on small and medium news organizations by limiting its provisions to organizations with 1,500 employees or fewer.
“With those improvements, we have garnered tremendous bipartisan support for the legislation as it moves through Congress,” she said.
The bill was modeled after a similar law passed in Australia. Coffey said that media companies (in Australia) received payments from Big Tech companies that would equate to billions of dollars in revenue redirected to small American media outlets.
She described the payouts as “transformative revenue.”
According to a survey of 1,000 adults conducted by Schoen Cooperman Research, the bill also has broad support among Americans.
“This is one of those rare issues — the JCPA — that brings Americans of all ideologies, political parties, demographic groups, regions of the country together to support a fair and reasonable compensation for local media,” said Doug Schoen, the research group’s founder and partner.
The survey indicated that 70% of those surveyed gave “total support” to the bill, with 12% saying they were totally opposed and 18% offering no opinion. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said it is important for Congress to pass the bill, and 45% said they were more likely to support a candidate who supports the measure. Eleven percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support a candidate who supported the measure.
“The JCPA was seen as an important measure and one that was politically popular and advantageous to be supported,” he said.
Schoen described the survey results as “a strong endorsement .... of the equity behind JCPA.”
In Colorado, Reen said 79% of survey respondents believe Big Tech companies hold too much power, 76% said Big Tech companies are driving small media companies out of business, and 79% said they are concerned that Big Tech companies are manipulating the news for their own gains.
“The survival of local news is vital to our local communities,” Reen said. “And, frankly, it’s not guaranteed.”
Alyssa Choiniere is an Editor & Publisher contributor. She is a journalist based in southwestern Pennsylvania covering a variety of topics including industry news and criminal justice.
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