Ahead of today’s House Judiciary Hearing, the Save Journalism Project held a press call with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); journalists Laura Bassett, laid off by HuffPost; and John Stanton, laid off by BuzzFeed; and Neil Chase, CEO of CalMatters and former executive editor of The Mercury News and East Bay Times.
The monopolistic power of big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple is destroying the economic model of the entire journalism industry, whether its traditional circulation newspapers or digital news outlet.
This week’s hearing on how digital platforms affect news organizations marks the much-needed return of congressional antitrust scrutiny to big tech companies, which have gained a monopolistic position that lets them dominate the digital advertising marketplace and distribute massive amounts of content from news publishers on their platforms without paying to produce the content.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) said, “I don’t think there’s anything more important right now than this issue. Being from the Bay Area, I have been to every big tech company. After meeting with them, I think it’s time to make it easier for licensing like the music and movie industries have done. We are members of Congress, you are journalists, and we have to keep an appropriate Constitutional distance, but there are policy proposals in our legislation that protect the freedom of the press and are necessary to keep the industry alive. When I was first elected to the Concord City Council there was a reporter who was consistently in the front row keeping officials accountable. His presence made local government work, and it is vital that we protect the journalism industry to make sure leaders are kept accountable and communities are informed.”
Laura Bassett, a reporter who was laid off by HuffPost, commented, “In the first few months of 2019, I was one of about 2,400 journalists and media staffers who lost our jobs. Even though I was aware the cuts were coming, it was still shocking to be laid off after nearly a decade in my newsroom. The reason for the mass layoffs, I found out, was that Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook are dominating the digital ad market, swallowing about 60 percent of all revenue and making it difficult for journalism to survive. News publishers are being forced to give a cut of their ad revenue to these companies- revenue that would otherwise go to hiring journalists. Because a well-funded news media is vital to a healthy democracy, the public needs to be aware of Big Tech’s death grip on publishers. At the House Judiciary Hearing today, lawmakers in Congress need to address this bipartisan issue and find legislative solutions that regulate tech giants and restore fairness to the digital ad market. Journalists are taught not to be the story, but as Big Tech’s digital ad monopoly benefits off of our revenue streams, it’s incumbent upon us to fight for the future of our industry. One or two companies should not have the power to cripple the free press.”
“After 20 years of covering Congress and the White House for BuzzFeed, I found out layoffs were coming in a tweet from the Wall Street Journal,” said John Stanton, former Buzzfeed Washington Bureau Chief before being laid off. “Despite the great work my colleagues and I were doing for the publication, there simply wasn’t enough money. Because stories that lead to changes in state and federal law, jailing of criminals and exposing wrongdoing — cost money. Money that is increasingly gobbled up by Google and Facebook. To try to survive, slashes had to be made. To entire desks. The reason advertising revenue has fallen so steeply is that Google and Facebook dominate the digital ad market, consuming more than 60 percent of all revenue. And their share is growing, because they devour nine out of every ten new dollars that are spent on digital advertising. Big Tech’s monopoly has a death grip on publishers. Congress needs to be discussing how to regulate this imbalance and restore competitive fairness in the digital market.”
Neil Chase, CEO of CalMatters and former executive editor of The Mercury News and East Bay Times, added, “We all believe journalism is central to democracy. Newspapers have experienced a decline not in the past five years, not in the past ten or fifteen years, but in the past seventy-five years. Newspapers have been declining since World War II. The problem is that we are essentially sitting on a 200 year-old product, but are trying to compete with new and changing technologies. Newspapers have maintained a monopoly for over 200 years. This is how people historically gained all their information; how they found where to buy clothing, where to buy their groceries, and where they got their news. With the change in how society works, all we have is the news. In order to solve this problem, we need a multi-pronged approach. We need to engage in philanthropy, which my company is already focused on this aspect. We need newspapers with benevolent leaders, not the leaders that we have at some major news organizations now. We need support from legislators. And, we need people paying for the news. We need a lot of support from a lot of different places in order to make this work.”