A newspaper trade organization that represents over 2,000 newspapers in the United States, to include the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, has asked Congress to change antitrust laws to give them an exemption so that they can team up against Facebook and Google.
The News Media Alliance (NMA) claims that existing media competition laws are preventing news organizations from working together to negotiate for better deals in the digital advertising space, which they claim is unfairly dominated by the two tech giants. They go on to claim that as newspapers, they are both a public service and essential to democracy. These claims and requests for governmental assistance are completely tone deaf in an era where the American public is growing ever skeptical of the entire mainstream news industry and the constant accusations of “Fake News.”
“Whenever President Trump attacks CNN or berates the Washington Post, journalists and free-speech advocates rise up to defend the media and the First Amendment. Meanwhile, a greater threat to America’s news industry looms mostly unnoticed: Google and Facebook’s duopolistic dominance of online advertising, which could do far more damage to the free press than anything the president posts on Twitter.”
When Chavern is speaking of the ‘free press,’ one can assume he is referencing the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution which reads, in part, that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” However, the request that the NMA seems to be making focuses on the financial-based definition of ‘free.’ The revenue streams that newspapers once focused on have begun to feed into Google and Facebook as the advertising market moves ever further into the digital space.
Reportedly half of the adult population in the United States say that they utilize Facebook as their primary source for news. Together, Facebook and Google control two-thirds of the digital advertising space. According to Chavern, they are seeking to obtain “better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data.” The case that the NMA is making is not just that they need the laws to change in order to improve their own business model, but that they want the government to ensure that their business model (subscriptions) is successful, while ensuring the get a “fair share” of revenue.
On their own website (which has third-party trackers from DoubleClick, a digital marketing agency owned by Google, embedded on it), the NMA stated in a press release that current online distribution systems are “distorting the flow of economic value derived from good reporting.” Basically the crux of their argument is that the news media, specifically the daily printed news, is somehow being treated unfairly because their business model is no longer relevant in the digital age. Across the board, revenue from subscriptions have been dwindling in the face of the ecosystem of free information available online. However, this has only been further amplified as the American public continues to have a total lack of trust in the mainstream media establishment that it perceives as being dishonest. Yet, outlets such as the New York Times are so convinced of their importance to a country that doesn’t want them that they want Congress to take action, so that they may get special rules that makes making money “fair.” Perhaps it is time that some of these papers take a look at why they lost their audience in the first place, before they start insisting they get a cut of display advertising that they didn’t earn.