Imagine for a moment that you are a businessman who has invested a lot of time, money and equity in creating a product that is essential to the well-being of your community.
Imagine the pride you and your employees take in creating this product which, over time, has become the very foundation of your community.
Then imagine that someone comes along and, without your permission and without any sort of compensation, takes your product and offers it to the public under their banner, raising funds for the product they had no part in creating and has no right to present as its own.
If you can imagine such a thing, no matter how difficult, then you have an idea of what it is like to be in the news publishing business in the age of rampant social media.
Newspapers and other publications, many of which have been part of their communities for more than a century, have their content pushed through social media like Google and Facebook with the slightest compensation, literally sucking the life out of an industry that has been – and continues to be – an essential part of the checks and balances that keep the democracy of this country intact.
Studies show that people are hungry for news content, that the audience searching for such content online has grown by 39% since 2014, to an audience of some 136 million adults every week.
Consider, then, that, conversely, the circulation of news publications fell by 48% during this period and that the revenue generated by these publications fell by 58%.
Imagine, if you are that hypothetical businessman mentioned earlier, that despite all the work that has gone into creating your product, another company is reaping the benefits of your labor. Then consider that 90% of all digital ad revenue generated by social and traditional media goes to Google and Facebook.
Those of us who work in the news industry are frustrated daily when we hear former customers or potential new customers say things like, “I get my news from Facebook.” Because we know, without a doubt, that the majority of legitimate news gleaned from Facebook, Google and other sites has been collected and disseminated by the fewer and fewer professional journalists who are still in the trenches, asking the hard questions and holding leaders and future leaders accountable to the public for their actions.
Of course, “real news” – at least that reported by responsible journalists – is often not as exciting and never as full of accusations and innuendo as some of the “news” reported on social media. This is because the standards of journalism are non-existent on such sites. But the overwhelming majority of community news publications (70% in a recent study) feature reports that have been vetted by responsible journalists who refuse – who are bound by the ethics of their profession – to leave unsubstantiated trifles guide their reporting.
This newspaper and others across the country are calling on Congress to pass a Journalism Preservation and Competition Act that would, in the short term, allow news publishers to negotiate with Facebook, Google and others for fair compensation. Your support for this legislation would not only benefit your hometown newspapers and publications as they bravely continue their efforts to deliver the news that is vital to their communities. It would show these social media behemoths that they, too, are bound by the laws of decency and fairness to compensate the individuals and publications that have, in large part, done their work for them.