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Help put local news above the interests of Big Tech

Bad things happen when communities lose their local newspapers.

Communities lose transparency and accountability. Taxes go up and voter participation goes down.

“And when you lose a small daily or a weekly, you lose the journalist who was gonna show up at your school board meeting, your planning board meeting, your county commissioner meeting,” said Penny Abernathy, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, who has extensively studied the growing rise in “news deserts” around the country.

Since 2004, more than 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States. In their closure, residents of those communities lost the voice that shared the triumphs, tragedies and trials of everyday life. They lose the watchdog that kept local leaders in check. They lose the repository of institutional knowledge which helps shape the soul of a community.

While there are many reasons why newspapers fail, the escalation in recent years is directly tied to market manipulation of so-called “Big Tech” companies such as Facebook and Google.

These companies have used their power to manipulate the online news industry for their own financial gain. They set the rules for how, where and when people see news content online and how much revenue is made, and the government has failed to step in.

By not negotiating with local and small news publishers on usage terms, and refusing to pay them fairly for their work, Big Tech has driven many local outlets out of business. And as newsrooms have downsized or shuttered, Big Tech has filled the void with untrustworthy sources.

These platforms are built to elevate content that drive clicks – favoring extreme and outrageous misinformation. Their revenue models are built to distribute divisive content, which could not be more alarming in our highly fractured and partisan environment. They undervalue quality news content and, as a result, the information ecosystem has grown increasingly confusing and unhealthy.

For our democracy to function properly, the government has a duty to make sure that every industry is operating fairly, and that major economic players are conducting business responsibly. As the spread of dangerous misinformation online has permeated our culture, we have all seen just how critical quality journalism is to sustaining a civic society. Elected officials now have a responsibility to reign in Big Tech – to restore fairness to the media industry and safeguard a pillar of our democracy.

Residents concerned about reigning in Big Tech must call on Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson to support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), a bipartisan bill specifically aimed at addressing Google and Facebook’s threat to the free press. The JCPA would provide a temporary, limited antitrust safe harbor for small, local news publishers to collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google for fair compensation for the use of their content. It’s narrowly tailored to ensure that coordination by news publishers is only in the interest of protecting trustworthy, quality journalism, and is designed to incentivize and reward publishers who are investing in journalists and newsroom personnel. In fact, publishers that demonstrate an investment in their journalists will receive a higher portion of the funds that result from the negotiations each year.

In today’s partisan political climate, it is rare for Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything – but the JCPA is one important exception. The JCPA has bipartisan support, and elected officials from both parties agree that passing the JCPA will bring about much-needed change by making the news and publishing industries fairer for smaller media entities and local operators.

Contact Senators Baldwin and Johnson and urge them to join their 7th Congressional District Rep. Tom TiffanyandabroadbipartisancoalitionofCongressional colleagues in co-sponsoring the JCPA today.