After Decade of Declining Classified Revenue, We Should All Applaud Latest Effort to Slow Death of Journalism

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Jul 13, 2017

Newspaper ad revenue in 2016 amounted to $18 billion, down from $50 billion just a decade ago. Google it. Of course, googling news is part of the problem, much like stumbling upon content via Facebook.

We search for information, or we simply see it because friends share it, click, consume, then go back from whence we came. Google and Facebook win, owning 70 percent of all digital advertising dollars, and the news hungry masses win. However, journalists are losing, because the companies that employ them are dying.

That’s a bad thing.

Thomas Jefferson has some great quotes about the press and its value to society. One of my favorites is, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

I know, I know. It’s hard to feel sorry for newspapers, especially in the employment space. For decades, as a virtual monopoly, newspapers were able to suck money out of companies looking to put recruitment advertising dollars to work through classifieds. The tide has tuned, however, as the competition created by the Internet has put employers in a much better position.

Even if you’re not a fan of newspapers, you should be a fan of journalism and the value it brings to our lives. And until a better system develops, newspapers are still a vital way to make sure journalists can make a living. You can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent.

This is why a new initiative by an organization called News Media Alliance should be applauded. The News Media Alliance is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. and was founded in 1992 through a merger of seven associations serving the newspaper industry. It was originally known as the Newspaper Association of America. The group’s mission is to advance the interest of the newspaper industry.

Its latest cause is to convince Congress to give them the right to team up and renegotiate how content is shared on Facebook and Google. Unbeknownst to me, newspapers don’t currently have the ability to work together without violating laws intended to prevent monopolies.

“Under the antitrust laws, the newspapers currently can’t get together to negotiate with these giants and what we’re just asking is the ability to negotiate as a group. That’s all,” David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance said in an interview with CBS.

“The two digital giants don’t employ reporters: They don’t dig through public records to uncover corruption, send correspondents into war zones, or attend last night’s game to get the highlights. They expect an economically squeezed news industry to do that costly work for them,” Chavern said.

Basically, if Congress takes the handcuffs off the news media to negotiate with Google and Facebook as a group, instead of individually, some deals can be made that put money back in the pockets of the people who actually report news. Newspapers are no longer the monopolies they once were, and shouldn’t constrained by outdated legislation.

Granted, this is a difficult problem to solve. And the free market supporter in me says the newspaper industry and the journalists it supports should just die if they can’t compete. My inner capitalist says, “If they can’t make money from traffic online, then they don’t deserve to survive.”

But it seems too important for such laissez faire opinions. I certainly don’t want a world motivated by fabricated news and click bait, or, God forbid, a world where bloggers are the world’s most reliable source of information. I don’t want my kids to grow up in that world.

“I don’t know whether the right approach is a Hail Mary plea to Congress for help, or an appeal for increased collaboration,” wrote journalist Joyce Terhaar. “I do know an improved business model must be urgently pursued. It’s never going to work for publishers to pay for journalism while technology companies reap the revenue and move at a sloth’s pace to change the business model. The future of news is at stake. So too is its contribution to our democracy.”

Yeah, what she said.

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