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Guest column: Newspapers need level playing field to compete in digital landscape
Doug Collins 2018
Doug Collins

Editor’s note: This op-ed was originally published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 7, 2019. 

We have a bipartisan solution to help newspapers and communities everywhere. 

Free press and our access to it is at the very core of America’s democracy. Each and every day, Americans turn to online and print news to understand what is happening in our nation’s capital and in their own backyard. Sadly, newspapers across the country — which have informed their communities for decades — are closing their doors because revenue that normally funds their papers is instead going to Facebook and Google, even though users are engaging with news content.

Facebook and Google aren’t producing the news; they’re choosing how content is displayed, in what order it appears in searches and how much advertising revenue they pass along to the publications that actually produced the articles that drive content to online platforms. 

Unfortunately, this means newspapers and reporters lose revenue and control over their work product. These social platforms then reap the financial dividends of an increasingly anticompetitive ecosystem because the vast majority of digital advertising revenue goes straight to Facebook and Google. 

This system reduces the competitive landscape and it leaves the marketplace of ideas to be left in the hands of two tech giants.

In an effort to address these new challenges, my Democratic colleague, Rep. David Cicilline, of Rhode Island, and I have introduced market-based legislation to give local newspapers the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field. 

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act temporarily creates a safe harbor to allow newspapers to negotiate collectively with online platforms without being penalized for anticompetitive laws that weren’t designed to apply to them. This means newspapers can negotiate together without fearing fines that could shut them down.

It’s important that we create this safe harbor for publications because Facebook and Google are operating in an increasingly monopolistic space that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for independent news publications to negotiate effectively on their own. Antitrust laws should help, not hinder, companies that are struggling in an anticompetitive environment. When news outlets can negotiate fairly with social platforms, newspapers can earn more of the revenue created by their reporting, and communities big and small can maintain access to the journalism they rely on. 

Passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will help ensure platforms like Google and Facebook enhance the important work of our community newspapers, not eliminate them. 

If we continue down our current path, not only will the newspaper industry suffer, families across the nation will lose access to the news they depend on. 

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins represents the 9th District, which includes much of Northeast Georgia. He can be reached at his Gainesville office at 210 Washington St., Suite 202 and 770-297-3388.

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