Newspapers Ask Congress to Help Tackle Google, Facebook

Newspapers Ask Congress to Help Tackle Google, Facebook

An alliance of media outlets is seeking to take on the tech giants over advertising practices.

Newspapers Ask Congress to Help Tackle Google, Facebook
The Associated Press

Newspapers across the country are hoping to negotiate advertising terms with Google and Facebook with congressional approval. KIICHIRO SATO/AP

 Though much has been made of an apparent battle between President Donald Trump’s administration and the mainstream media, traditional print and online outfits are banding together to take on a completely different foe – big-name tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Digital and print publishers large and small – from local newspaper purveyors to The New York Times and The Washington Post – have thrown their collective weight behind an industry advocacy group known as the News Media Alliance, which this week is calling on federal lawmakers to tweak antitrust regulations to allow the news outlets to negotiate directly with Google and Facebook to shore up ad revenues and bolster their digital presence.

“The problem is that today’s internet distribution systems distort the flow of economic value derived from good reporting,” David Chavern, head of the News Media Alliance, wrote in an op-ed published Sunday evening in The Wall Street Journal. “Google and Facebook dominate web traffic and online ad income. Together, they account for more than 70 percent of the $73 billion spent each year on digital advertising, and they eat up most of the growth. Nearly 80 percent of all online referral traffic comes from Google and Facebook.”

Chavern says he and others in the industry take issue with Google’s and Facebook’s “immensely profitable business” that they argue reaps the rewards from in-depth reporting conducted by reporters working in “an economically squeezed industry.”

“The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook – pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data – they could build a more sustainable future for the news business,” Chavern said.

 Existing antitrust regulations, however, wouldn’t allow such a direct negotiation to play out, as government regulations have been put in place to essentially prevent a swath of companies in a particular industry from colluding on pricing or basic practices. Chavern, however, is leading the charge to ask Congress to grant a temporary exception from these industry barriers, saying that their existence is actually “preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position.”

“The digital giants benefit from legal precedent against collective action that has a chilling effect on publishers. Yet each newspaper or magazine on its own has only limited negotiating power,” Chavern said. “Today, antitrust laws are insulating Google and Facebook from market forces. News publishers are committed to unleashing those forces to defend their investments in great journalism.”

Adding to the complexity of the situation has been a rise in articles without factual basis. Facebook, in particular, was criticized during the 2016 presidential election for not thoroughly vetting the articles it publicized and occasionally hosting articles without factual basis.

Campbell Brown, a former journalist who heads Facebook’s News Partnership Team, said in a statement that the social media company is “committed to helping quality journalism thrive” and is “making progress through our work with news publishers.”

Still, granting mainstream media outlets exemptions from antitrust standards may not play well with Trump supporters and loyalists in the government, as the president has made a habit of criticizing what he feels to be unfair and unchecked media coverage.

 Chavern argued in his op-ed, however, that the challenges associated with Google’s and Facebook’s current advertising practices potentially pose a “greater threat” despite the fact that it “looms mostly unnoticed.”

“Google and Facebook ‘s duopolistic dominance of online advertising … could do far more damage to the free press than anything the president posts on Twitter,” Chavern said.