The news industry is today where the music industry was 100 years ago. That’s the viewpoint of David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization representing digital and print news publishers around the world.
“Music in the 19th century was a print business,” he says. “They controlled their distribution. With the advent of recording devices, they had to develop music licensing over a 15-year period to collect value everywhere music was being played to return value to the publishers and artists.”
News, in the form of printed newspapers, “used to have the most direct relationship you can have with a customer. We manufactured a physical product, then walked it up your driveway and handed it to you in your bathrobe. We now have a couple major companies that stand between us and our audience and they control everything about that, including taking most of the value from that interaction. We need a better deal from our digital distributors to sustain an industry.”
Oddly, while Google and Facebook feel like they have a monopoly on the distribution of digital information on their platforms and in terms of their global reach, U.S. antitrust laws, as currently written, protect the digital giants from the news industry.
The News Media Alliance is working to change that, by way of supporting legislation that would allow digital and print publishers and news organizations to enter into contract negotiations as a unit in order to get better price structures for news publishers from internet agents.
There’s precedent for this action: Australia just passed a new negotiating code that says Google and Facebook have to engage in negotiations with publishers. “They have to be fair and deal with fair value,” Chavern says. “If there’s a dispute, there’s an arbitration system backing it up. This is new to all news publishing but Google and Facebook already pay to license music. They pay to license sports clips. They pay for a lot of content. But for historic reasons, they’ve haven’t had to do that for news.”
Introduced during the last congressional session and just reintroduced recently, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would allow news publishers — both digital and physical media — to negotiate collectively with technological platforms for fair compensation for the use of their news content.
The bill, when introduced originally, had bipartisan support and there is current interest from members of Congress to not only support the bill as written but to help strengthen it.
Of course, this won’t be an easy fight.
Google and Facebook “have not taken a public position that I’m aware of but they’re actively lobbying against it,” Chavern says. “That’s the nature of business. I just did a hearing (recently) and there was this bizarre farcical framing about Big Media and Big Tech, a false equivalence between the two. If you roll up all my membership, 2,000 publishers including the biggest ones and the smallest, if we rolled them all up, their revenues are nothing compared to Google and Facebook. We feel the heat from the massive lobbying capacity from their platforms, but we’re fighting for something right and there’s power in that.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization representing digital and print news publishers around the world. They discuss new legislative efforts to help news publishers get paid fair value for their content by Facebook and Google and the precedent set in Australia to make this happen.