Monday, October 07, 2019

Editors, publishers urged to lobby, campaign for legislation to let papers negotiate collectively with Google, Facebook

By Buck Ryan
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

CHICAGO — Newspaper leaders across the American heartland, especially those with personal relationships with elected representatives in Congress, were urged Sunday afternoon to call, write letters and publish an op-ed in support of an antitrust “safe harbor” bill designed to recapture revenues from Facebook and Google.

There is “absolutely” a sense of urgency around passage of the bill to support the struggling newspaper industry, Danielle Coffey, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and counsel for the News Media Alliance, told editors and publishers at the annual joint meeting of the Inland Press Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, which are merging.

It’s an issue that has even entered the Democratic presidential primary election campaign, Coffey said, noting a conversation with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Warren came to us and said, ‘We want to help you’,” Coffey said.

Another candidate, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), introduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019, along with U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), on June 3 as S. 1700.

The bill aims “to provide a temporary safe harbor for the publishers of online content to collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms on which their content may be distributed.” 

In the House, Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, and Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins, introduced the bill as H.R. 2054 on April 3.

Danielle Coffey
“We want it to be bipartisan,” Coffey said. “It will have a better chance in the Senate if it comes out bipartisan in the House.”

Of Cicilline and Collins, Coffey said, “They’ll spar on impeachment, but not on this.”

Asked what passage of the bill would mean to newspapers, Coffey replied, “Money.” The act would provide publishers a four-year exemption from anti-trust laws to negotiate revenues with the large tech companies. “When money is on the table, people come together quickly,” she added.

How desperate are newspapers for revenue? “Some of us are on suicide watch,” said Chris Reen, president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, who led the discussion with Coffey at the conference’s opening session.

Coffey mentioned two other benefits if the bill becomes law. Publishers would gain access to more data on their readership for editorial and advertising purposes, and more knowledge of how their news stories surface in readers' online searches.

If editors and publishers can create “a groundswell” of support in their communities, Coffey said, then the odds of passage will improve. “The co-sponsors need help,” she said.

The campaign includes an op-ed piece that newspapers can use or adapt. More information on the campaign is here.

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