Home » News » Senators try again with legislation to support local journalism

By Dennis Hetzel, published on April 6, 2023

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Photo courtesy iStock: Morsa Images

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is trying again to pass a bill that would waive antitrust law to allow local news organizations to negotiate collectively with tech giants such as Google and Facebook to receive more compensation for their content.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, reintroduced in the U.S. Senate last week, is designed to help beleaguered news outlets find fresh revenue to support local news operations after years of declines in advertising and subscription income that have often resulted in draconian cuts in local newsrooms.

The bill covers news organizations employing 1,500 or fewer employees in an effort to restrict benefits to smaller groups and locally owned outlets, while setting specific definitions of what constitutes a news organization and procedures related to collective bargaining on issues such as quality, accuracy and attribution as well as price.

As Reuters noted, “news organizations have complained for years they are not sufficiently compensated for readers that their content attracts.”

The bill was also introduced in both houses during the last Congress and made progress but never became law after the language was removed from a larger bill. The latest bill was introduced by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, and Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, with multiple cosponsors from both parties.

“As the daughter of a newspaperman, I understand firsthand the vital role that a free press plays in strengthening our democracy,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “But local news is facing an existential crisis, from ad revenues plummeting and newsrooms across the country closing to artificial intelligence tools taking content. To preserve strong, independent journalism, news organizations must be able to negotiate on a level playing field with the online platforms that dominate news distribution and digital advertising.”

The bill won immediate praise from media-lobbying groups such as the News Media Alliance, which represents local newspapers, websites and magazines. “Emerging technologies such as AI are making even more clear the need for compensation when content creators may soon see even less return than what they receive today,” the group said.

Reuters said Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google opposed past legislation, saying that news organizations already get advertising revenue and licensing fees from them on top of the large audiences who start with links in Google search results and end on publishers’ websites. Facebook owner Meta threatened to remove news links from its platforms in December if the bill passed, although Facebook backed down somewhat when a similar bill became law in Australia.

Supporters say search-related revenue isn’t nearly enough. For example, Trib Total Media CEO Jennifer Bertetto offered specifics when she testified in support of the bill last year.

Trib Total Media primarily serves the Pittsburgh region. In her February 2022 testimony, the Trib reported, “Bertetto highlighted that Google, Facebook and other dominant digital platforms don’t properly compensate local news agencies for their content. She told the subcommittee that the Trib gets about $144,000 from Google each year, which is a small amount compared to the $7 million the company needs to pay its journalists each year.”

The bill also has critics who claim it is too slanted to help legacy news organizations versus local news start-ups, arguing that legacy media created many of its own problems by responding slowly to changes and failing to invest adequately in local coverage.


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