Small Media vs. Big Tech | Opinion

Earlier this year, I testified before a Senate subcommittee on the Competition Act and the preservation of journalism. The JCPA allows small media outlets to negotiate as a group with Google and Facebook, seeking fair compensation for the use of their work.

As a local news publisher in southwestern Pennsylvania, I support this important legislation. It is not a surprise. But you may be surprised to learn of the broad bipartisan support that JCPA has enjoyed from the start. Today, the Senate co-sponsors are exactly 50-50 – six Republicans and six Democrats. That speaks volumes about the fairness and common sense of the bill. This is an essential step in preserving local media from the national tech giants that control the advertising market.

As a news consumer, you don’t have to worry about our business model. Readers are simply looking for the news and information they need to get through the day. Yet everyone understands how the Internet has changed the economy of every business in the country. Print newspapers have become increasingly smaller, while publishers have turned to websites and other methods to reach online readers. But the internet has quickly become dominated by virtual monopolies, with sophisticated tools to extract money from the market – selling advertisements for the labor others have invested in producing them.

As I told the Senate subcommittee: “Put simply, Google and Facebook are effectively imposing an advertising tax on publishers, taking 40% to 70% of every ad dollar out of us. Plus, they’re collecting data on consumers and then use or sell them without sharing them with the creator of the original content. These two platforms alone capture 60% of all digital advertising dollars due to their ability to collect data.”

These facts and figures may seem like inside baseball, so let me put it another way: when your local news organization shrinks, it can’t afford to cover the news that matters to you. “Our readers rely on us for information they literally won’t get anywhere else,” I said. “That covers school board meetings. This covers city government. This lets them know when the bridge is open in their community. This lets them know when the senior center will be open during the winter months as warming stations.

The JCPA is just one tool among many that can help bring fairness to the news industry. Legislation is needed so that small news companies – with fewer than 1,500 employees – can legally unite and bargain fairly with the mega-corporations that control the landscape. “Publishers — those who create the original content — need to be able to keep more of the revenue from their work and investment,” I said. “It would allow us to retain and hire more journalists, and pay for the quality journalism that is so valuable – even to these platforms and their profits.”

Again, to translate this into real numbers: our payroll is around $7 million, but we’re only getting around $150,000 a year through our current deal with Google. Increasing this to a fair number would hardly affect Google’s results. But for our readers, it would mean our ability to cover more communities, to keep more beats, to keep full-time reporters in the field.

If you’re reading this, you already care about the health of local journalism. You can learn more about the JCPA through the News/Media Alliance, a national group representing our industry in Washington, at newsmediaalliance.org. Please take the time to reach out to your representatives in Congress and urge them to join the broad bipartisan support for a better balance between big tech and local news.

Jennifer Bertetto is president and CEO of Trib Total Media, based in southwestern Pennsylvania.

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