Reining in Big Tech might help save local news


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Big Tech is a big problem. Their platforms have been used to distort our democratic processes. Their control over the media advertising industry is — in the eyes of many — monopolistic. During the pandemic, as many Americans suffered from illness and a crumbling economy, Big Tech companies made obscene amounts of money. And their intrusions into our daily lives have quite literally reshaped our brains.

Local, independent newspapers have also suffered under Big Tech’s rule.

Alphabet and Meta — and their respective products, Google News and Facebook News — have used their economic and political might to gain control over the vast majority of the news and information Coloradans consume by appropriating the work of independent newspapers and journalists, who don’t have the capacity to fight back against these tech giants.

This has been possible, in part, because Big Tech has been able to set all the rules. And those rules have prioritized their own financial gain. They decide where, when and how people consume news — despite not being involved in the reporting, printing or publishing of the vast majority of this content.

But pay for this content, they don’t. So, while Big Tech has raked in billions of dollars ($38 billion in profits in a single quarter during the bleakest months of the pandemic), hundreds of local newspapers have been forced to downsize or shutter entirely — our Boulder community can be counted among the lucky.

As the not-so-lucky local news sources dwindle and vanish, the information void left in their absence is filled with “news” designed not to inform but to generate clicks. This “news” allows disinformation to proliferate, divisive content to drive a wedge into our communities and partisanship to harden and solidify and become irreconcilable. Already it feels as though we are lacking a shared set of facts to inform our views of the world — what will happen if we continue down this path?

To be sure, Boulderites and Coloradans recognize the threat of Big Tech’s stranglehold over the news and back efforts to curb Big Tech’s outsized power and influence. New polling — which was commissioned by News Media Alliance — shows widespread concern over Big Tech’s power, as well as strong support for reforms to rein in these monopolies. Indeed, 83% are concerned that Big Tech companies have too much power over the news and publishing industries.

One potential reform that could help rein in Big Tech’s greedy influence is the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.

High-quality, trustworthy journalism is expensive. The JCPA — a bill with bipartisan sponsorship — is designed to support our free press by allowing news publishers to negotiate fair terms for the use of their content by Big Tech companies. And recent modifications to the bill have increased the chances of its successful passage — including the introduction of a measure to placate union concerns as well as an addendum to ensure that dark money organizations like the Russian state-controlled television network do not inadvertently benefit.

Similar bills have helped local news outlets thrive in Australia, Canada and Europe. In the US, such a measure could bring much-needed revenue back into local newsrooms. So, like publications across the country, we are urging Congress to support the JCPA to help independent newspapers fulfill their mission of providing the public with reliable and trustworthy news, holding the powerful to account, and ensuring that the government — from Washington to Colorado to Boulder — serves all its citizens.

Disappointingly, neither of Colorado’s senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, have signed on to cosponsor the JCPA. In the House, however, unlikely allies Reps. Ken Buck and Joe Neguse were cosponsors of a package of similar antitrust reforms targeting Big Tech. All four should now put their efforts behind the JCPA.

Because, to put it plainly, Coloradans are deeply concerned about Big Tech’s outsized influence, its manipulation of the news industry and the threats posed to small, local, independent media.

Fortunately, the JCPA is a viable solution that would help put an end to Big Tech’s market manipulation and selfish profiteering while making the news industry freer, fairer and a better product for those who matter most: the people.

—Gary Garrison and Douglas Schoen for the Camera Editorial Board


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