When the news industry struggles, so does our democracy.
One congressman from Wisconsin is in a powerful position to help turn things around.
U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, should press his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee and a key subcommittee to support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. This bipartisan proposal would force big technology companies to fairly compensate local publishers for their content.
Big technology companies such as Google and Facebook repackage news reports from local sources for their users. By redirecting readers to their own sites, they deprive local news outlets of digital advertising revenue. That makes it harder to staff newsrooms with the journalists who produce the credible reports and information voters need to be engaged citizens.
Even when readers do land on a newspaper’s or television station’s website, many of the ads there are sold by Google, Facebook or a handful of digital brokers. Those companies take a hefty cut, leaving local news producers—the people working hard to let you know what’s going on in your community—without a reliable revenue stream.
In theory, local news organizations could negotiate better terms. In practice, Google and Facebook are huge and have no desire to work out individual deals with hundreds or thousands of smaller news publishers. They are the gateways to online readers, so publishers have little choice but to accept their terms.
The Journalism Competition Act would allow news publishers and broadcasters to negotiate as a group with the big tech companies. Specifically, it would create a four-year safe harbor from federal antitrust laws that normally prohibit such partnerships. Working together, publishers and broadcasters would have leverage to secure more advertising revenue and better control of how their stories are used.
Despite bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, the Journalism Competition Act has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, on which Fitzgerald serves. Tech giants are ramping up their lobbying, and some powerful Republicans oppose anything seen as helping mainstream media.
As a former Wisconsin newspaper publisher, Fitzgerald could be a compelling voice against the Big Tech monopoly. Fitzgerald owned and ran the Dodge County Independent News in Juneau in the 1990s, before his political career took off.
We’ve certainly had our differences with Fitzgerald over the years when he ran the Wisconsin Senate and, more recently, refused to certify last fall’s presidential vote. But given his background in community journalism, we’re confident he respects the Founding Fathers’ inclusion of a free press in the First Amendment to hold government accountable and foster an informed citizenry.
Fitzgerald has not yet taken a public position on the Journalism Competition Act. As a Republican, he should help convince reluctant members of his party to support this good cause for local communities in his district.