It might surprise you to know that many newspaper reporters and editors have a certain newfound sympathy for farmers and ranchers.
Farmers and ranchers sometimes have to remind people that the food on their table ultimately comes from farms and ranches, not from grocery stores, where it's slickly packaged for consumers.
But most of the profit in that box of cereal or cake mix goes to food processors, not to farmers.
Something similar is at work in the news business. It’s now common for people to say, without giving the matter any thought, “I get my news online.”
It’s true. Almost 90% of Americans get their news from a smartphone, computer or tablet. But news isn’t “grown” by Facebook or Google — it comes from reporters, and it’s originally published by newspapers.
Yet, in today’s media landscape, platforms like Google and Facebook capture most of the economic value that originates in newsrooms. They get the vast majority of advertising revenues that were the lifeblood of newspapers.
Online giants like Facebook and Google don’t do anything to cover the news in places like Fargo or Grand Forks or Duluth or Rochester. Newspapers including The Forum, the Grand Forks Herald, Duluth News Tribune and Rochester Post-Bulletin do that heavy lifting.
Those newspapers cover the local school board, city government, high school and college sports teams and statehouses.
But the economic model that supports that labor-intensive information gathering and dissemination is collapsing because of the internet and the marketplace clout of the likes of Facebook and Google — a pair sometimes called a “digital ad duopoly.”
Individually, there’s no way that newspapers can wield enough economic heft to negotiate effectively with the online giants to preserve the viability of their operations — vital to maintaining the flow of information that feeds consumers’ minds.
There’s something that could help. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act that has been introduced in Congress would give news organizations the ability to negotiate on a level playing field with the big tech companies.
It’s a bipartisan effort and one of the bill’s main sponsors is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. The legislation recognizes that the public is the loser when newsrooms are forced to cut staff — or must cease publishing, leaving important news uncovered.
The siphoning of advertising dollars from the giant online platforms is a major cause of the financial distress plaguing newspapers. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act addresses that gross imbalance by providing a “safe harbor” from antitrust laws so publishers can join together to negotiate with the likes of Facebook and Google.
It provides a 48-month period for companies to negotiate fair terms that would flow subscription and advertising dollars back to publishers. At the same time, it would protect and preserve Americans’ access to the news they need to inform their lives.
The act requires that the negotiations must strictly benefit Americans and publishers at-large, not just one or a few publishers.
You can help by continuing to subscribe to your newspaper, whether print or online — and by telling your members of Congress to help keep local news "growing" by supporting the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.