The news industry has never been more dependent on tech companies and the massive distribution platforms they operate on the internet, leading to a long-standing and ongoing existential crisis in journalism. This isn’t exactly a secret — nearly half of all American adults rely on Facebook as a primary news delivery mechanism, and both the social network and Google collectively control more than two-thirds of the entire online advertising market. But it’s something that has publishers so worried that they’re now deciding to band together to do something about it.
The group, which is being represented by newspaper industry trade group the News Media Alliance, is now planning on asking Congress for an antitrust exemption to let news organizations collectively bargain, like a union would, with Facebook and Google, according to a report yesterday from The New York Times. The goal is to give the journalism business some leverage against all-powerful web platform owners, and to help undermine the value and spread of fake news and viral hoaxes that are currently infecting Facebook’s News Feed and the top results of Google’s search engine.
“This would grant media organizations the flexibility to expand innovative digital models of news distribution, while also giving them more ways to sustain high-quality journalism,” writes David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Chavern identified eventual goals as “pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data.”
Ultimately, news organizations are making an audacious ask of the government to help protect the journalism business from the dominance of Facebook and Google, companies that Chavern says have only gained such monumental influence in news by skirting antitrust regulations and acquiring big competitors. (Google gained influence in the ad market by acquiring Doubleclick and others, while Facebook did so in the social realm through its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.)
Though the antitrust atmosphere is more combative in Europe, where Google was recently slapped with a record €2.7 billion fine, this bargaining rights request here in the US might not be met warmly by the Republican-controlled Congress. However, as noted by the Times, one potential bargaining chip on the table for news publishers is Rupert Murdoch. As the founder and executive chairman of News Corporation, which owns the conservative WSJ and Fox News, Murdoch is in good graces with the Trump administration and may have more sway over lawmakers.
“The unique role news media continue to play in American politics and history makes it crucial to ensure a fairer fight for revenue between news publishers and these massive information gateways,” Chavern writes. “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.”