The severe economic recession that followed the arrival of the coronavirus has played a role in the recent losses. But that only exacerbated a bigger problem: the constant loss of ad revenue to tech giants Google and Facebook, who now control more than half of the US digital advertising market.
The platforms, which depend on journalism to fill their research and news feeds, have made modest payments to some outlets over the years. Globe management says the newspaper has an agreement with Facebook, but declined to provide details. Google has also approached the Globe.
But no news organization has the power to negotiate a fair deal with companies as powerful as the tech giants. There is simply no historical precedent for the companies that wield so much power over the flow of information in so much of the world.
So Congress should follow Australia’s lead and give publishers the power to band together and negotiate with platforms on an equal footing – hoping to win the kind of payments that can keep American journalism afloat and help preserve our fragile democracy.
The platforms will point out that they direct a lot of traffic to news media sites. And that’s true. But that’s not the whole story.
It’s no longer Google’s mission to help you find what you’re looking for and get you on your way. Two-thirds of searches on the site now start and end on Google. Small snippets of news, included in search results, are enough to satiate some readers.
And when you visit Google on your phone and click on a story, you don’t really jump to the media site like you might think. You visualize a simplified replica designed for the speed of history in a Google system called Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP. This system puts limits on advertising and subscription revenue the socket can collect.
And when you click on Google’s news carousel, the platform collects all kinds of data about you that it can sell to advertisers, further strengthening its market dominance and further crushing the media and other publishers.
Legislation in Congress, sponsored in the House by Rhode Island Democrat David Cicillin and Colorado Republican Ken Buck, and in the Senate by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Louisiana Republican John Kennedy, would grant publishers exemption from four years of antitrust laws to this effect. to come together to negotiate a deal with the tech giants.
It is not about overthrowing capitalism; it just allows for fair talks. Any deal should benefit all news publishers, providing vital support for young and old alike. And, if an agreement cannot be reached, Cicillin suggested that he would like to include a provision make the federal government an arbiter– make sure that the technology platforms would provide some kind of payment at the end of the process.
This would bring the legislation into line with Australia’s News Media Trading Code, approved in February, which has proven effective in forcing platforms to strike deals with news outlets of all sizes. Facebook initially resisted the measure, blocking users from viewing and sharing Australian news content for days to gain some concessions. But it ended up working.
Congress can do something similar. And it must. The health of journalism is essential to the health of a democracy.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.