Sunday, January 12, 2020

McConnell backs anti-trust exemption for newspapers to negotiate compensation from Facebook and Google

Dink NeSmith, CEO of Community Newspapers Inc.: "If you
let them get milk through the fence, they’ll never buy the cow.”
At the most polarized time in American politics since the Civil War, and more notably when the news media have become targets of both sides (but mainly one), there is bipartisan agreement in Congress to help newspapers cut a deal with Google and Facebook -- and it includes some powerful and influential members.

The legislation would give newspapers a four-year exemption from anti-trust laws to negotiate with the internet platforms that profit from their journalism but have cost them much of the advertising revenue that has been the main source of money to pay for that journalism. It got a big boost last week with co-sponsorship by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Its prime sponsor is Rep. Doug Colllins of Georgia, who as ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee led the defense of President Trump in the impeachment hearings.

“I am a free-markets guy and have fought against the idea that just because something is big it is necessarily bad,” Collins told Cecilia Kang of The New York Times. “But look, I’m a politician and live with the media and see its importance. These big, disruptive platforms are making money off creators of content disproportionately.”

Facebook and Google declined the Times' requests for comment on the legislation, but "The companies say their businesses have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to bolster local journalism," Kang writes. "The companies also work with news organizations to promote their articles and videos, driving traffic to their websites." Google told her, “Every month, Google News and Google Search drive over 24 billion visits to publishers’ websites, which drive subscriptions and significant ad revenue.”

Kang writes from Georgia, a good choice because 29 of its 159 counties don't have a local paper. She focuses first on Dink NeSmith, CEO of Community Newspapers Inc., which owns 24 papers, mainly in Georgia, several in Collins' district and recently showed its worth through coverage that blocked a coal-ash landfill. But on breaking daily news that lives mainly on social media, newspapers get little recognition or money, Kang notes. NeSmith quotes one of his grandmothers: “Honey, if you let them get milk through the fence, they’ll never buy the cow.”

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