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Congressman Courtney Champions Legislation to Provide Lifeline to Local News

April 4, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) joined as one of the earliest co-sponsors of legislation that will allow local news outlets to negotiate collectively with large online platforms, including Facebook and Google. The bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, introduced yesterday by Congressmen David Cicilline (RI-01) and Doug Collins (GA-09), creates a temporary safe harbor for news publishers to band together to negotiate with online platforms to protect Americans’ access to local, trustworthy sources of news online.

“Community newspapers are facing a market that is increasingly anti-competitive,” said Congressman Courtney. “Tech giants like Google and Facebook have centralized control of the vast majority of online content, and local publishers are being squeezed out while their labor is exploited. The Day’s Paul Choiniere emphasized this problem just this past Sunday, noting in his column that that the number one reason why people are unwilling to pay for local news is because they can get it for free online.  Our bill uses the free market as a solution, providing a path for local newspapers to more fairly negotiate the value of their content with large tech platforms. Community journalism and reliable local news hold a critical place in our democracy, and I’m proud to be among the first supporters of this much-needed legislation”.            

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act establishes a 48-month safe harbor for local publishers to band together and coordinate negotiations with dominant online platforms in order to improve the access to and the quality of news online. The safe harbor is narrowly tailored to ensure that coordination by news publishers is only in the interest of promoting trust and quality journalism, and only allows coordination by news publishers if it (1) directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution or branding, or interoperability of news; (2) benefits the entire industry, rather than just a few publishers, and is non-discriminatory to other news publishers; and (3) is directly related to and reasonably necessary for these negotiations, instead of being used for other purposes.

A 2017 Pew Research Center study found that most Americans accessed news through only two platforms – Facebook and Google. These companies control the vast majority of online referrals, and just last year amassed more than $60 billion from online advertising – the majority of all online ad revenue. In contrast, annual revenue for news publishers has plummeted by $31 billion since 2006. 

The resulting impact to newsrooms has been devastating, and has negatively affected the quality and availability of reliable journalism that Americans have access to. According to Pew, from 2008 through 2017, newsroom jobs plunged 23%, with most of the losses coming through job losses at newspapers, where jobs fell by 45% over the same period.

Several recent studies have found that the loss of newspapers can contribute to corruption in local government, a failure to promote public health, and less accountability.

Paul Choiniere, Editorial Page Editor at The Day, highlighted these issues in his March 31 column, Sorry, news gathering is not free. Click here to read his article in The Day.

Congressman Courtney has long been an advocate for community journalism and local publishers. Most recently, Courtney urged the International Trade Commission to reject the U.S. Department of Commerce’s tariff proposal on Canadian newsprint, noting that Connecticut’s print media organizations imported 100% of their newsprint from Canada. As a result of the pushback from Congressman Courtney and others, the Commission ultimately voted to reject the tariff proposal in August of 2018.