Guest opinion: Call on McConnell to stop the steal of local news

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, December 14, 2022

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By Dean Ridings 

America’s Newspapers

In the coming days, Kentucky’s own Senator Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders will have one last chance to save local journalism from the greed of Big Tech and their corporate lobbyists.

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Kentuckians should band together to preserve small newsrooms and ask Senator McConnell to back the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) in the forthcoming omnibus package.

Across the state, small Kentucky publishers employ reporters and newsroom staff who dedicate their careers to truthful, quality local journalism. From public records and obituaries to sports reports, city hall meetings and county politics, we work tirelessly to track and report local developments because telling the story of our community matters to us. But instead of being compensated fairly for our efforts, we’ve struggled to get by as Big Tech has profited off our content.

As readers have migrated from print to digital, they have taken the advertising dollars that once funded America’s newsroom with them. Google and Facebook’s vice grip on the digital advertising market has largely allowed them to dictate the terms of the entire online advertising ecosystem and has enabled them to shortchange small and local publishers like us.

Nothing is more devastating to a small newspaper’s survival than the monopolistic practices of Big Tech. Here in Kentucky, seven have already closed. Worse, these platforms elevate divisive “click bait” headlines and feed users news and content to reinforce their existing beliefs – insulating partisan echo chambers without as much as a fact check. Their primary goal isto generate profits, regardless of whether they are undermining our free press and democracy.

Our calls for change were recently answered by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives who recognized Big Tech’s stranglehold on small newsrooms. In an effort to safeguard the free press – which our Founding Fathers deemed so important to democracy that they enshrined it in the U.S. Constitution – they co-sponsored the JCPA – a bill that would allow struggling newspapers like ours to negotiate a fair price for our content with the likes of Facebook and Google.

The JCPA specifically addresses Google and Facebook’s anti-competitive practices by providing a temporary, limited antitrust safe harbor for small and local news publishers to collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google for fair compensation. The policy also incentivizes and rewards publishers who invest in their journalists and newsroom personnel, awarding outlets with demonstrated investments in their staff a larger portion of the funds that result from the negotiations.

Before Congress heads home for Christmas, congressional leaders, including Kentucky’s Senator McConnell, have one last chance to pass this lifeline for newspapers in the omnibus package. Otherwise, it’s a big gift to Big Tech, and a lump of coal to small communities across America who rely on local journalists to keep them informed.

If truth and democracy matter to you, stand up for the JCPA. If you think Big Tech should pay for the benefits they get from the hard work of your newspaper neighbors here in Kentucky and elsewhere, we urge you to make your voices heard and tell Senator McConnell is time to stop the steal of local news.