Metro, News

R.I. representative introduces bill to support news, media industry

Cicilline, D-R.I., backs media in negotiations with tech giants, concerns over anti-trust laws

Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2018

As digitalization makes information increasingly accessible, the field of journalism has evolved to survive. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., voiced his support for the news and media industry when he introduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act March 7. The act would exempt newspaper publishers from antitrust laws, which would allow them to collectively negotiate with tech giants such as Google and Facebook, according to a press release from Cicilline’s office. As the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, Cicilline acknowledged the undermining effect that antitrust laws have on newspapers. In order to preserve competition, the laws prevent businesses from forming alliances; however, the uneven power dynamic between newspapers and tech giants leaves news organizations without substantial negotiating power. 

“This bill empowers local newspapers to negotiate collectively with the biggest technology platforms to ensure consumers have access to the best journalism possible,” Cicilline said in the press statement.

The act was backed by publications nationwide and received resounding support from the News Media Alliance, a trade association that represents approximately 2,000 news media outlets across the country.

“We act as a watchdog to ensure that … those with power are held accountable so that the masses are educated and we can continue to have a healthy democracy,” said Vice President of Government Affairs at News Media Alliance, Danielle Coffey.

The debate surrounding the relationship between tech platforms and the news industry is especially pertinent given recent anxieties about fake news. As more people access news through channels like Facebook and Google, the News Media Alliance has become distanced from its readers and lost some control over how content is delivered, Coffey said.

“More people come to news sites through side doors, such as a Google search or Facebook newsfeed, than go to the (newspaper) home page, look through, and decide what they want to read,” said Rick Edmonds, a media and business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida. The changing nature of journalism has created a revenue problem for the field, he added.

According to Coffey, 75 percent of referral traffic for the News Media Alliance comes from Google and Facebook. With this dominant source, the association must work with its tech partners to help meet its members’ funding needs, she added. Digital ad spending and subscriptions are two significant sources of revenue for many publishers. Coffey asserted that laws such as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would ensure that quality journalism is rewarded monetarily, which is necessary to sustain accurate and accessible news.

Jonathan Readey, senior lecturer in English and co-director of the Nonfiction Writing Program, agrees that substantial funding for news outlets is necessary to ensure journalism is equipped to serve the public. It is “important to have adequate compensation, so that people will be motivated to do the stories and coverage that are necessary for a functioning society,” Readey said.

Tech companies are also working to preserve high-quality media outlets. At a press briefing in New York March 20, Google announced its intentions to pledge $300 million to “strengthen quality journalism.” The Google News Initiative would make it easier for Google users to subscribe to news sites by allowing them to transfer billing information already on file with Google. This development would help facilitate the necessary funding for journalists, Coffey said.

The Google News Initiative would also set up several projects to combat “fake news,” such as MediaWise, a partnership with Poynter, Stanford University and the Local Media Association to develop a digital literacy curriculum, CNN reported.

Coffey expressed her optimism for the future and hope that the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will pass. It would “give high quality, trustworthy sources the ability to thrive, and I think that that would be a very concrete, real world impact that everybody would benefit from,” she said.

Edmonds said that while the bill would provide a significant benefit to journalists, he is doubtful that it will pass. “We’re talking about something introduced by a Democrat when those in charge … are not very wild about the press,” Edmonds said. “So, it’s probably an uphill climb.”

However, Edmond, Coffey and Readey all expressed their belief that while technology has created new challenges for the journalism industry, the field will remain relevant.

“I certainly feel like it’s just the beginning for journalism,” Readey said. “In many ways, it’s a growing frontier, and it’s necessary to lay down policies that will continue to ensure the free and correct flow of information.”

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