House lawmakers are kicking off their antitrust investigations of technology companies by focusing on an industry crippled by the rise of big tech: local journalism.
The House Judiciary Committee, which announced a broad antitrust probe into the technology industry will hold its first hearing for the probe on June 11. The hearing, titled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 1: The Free and Diverse Press,” will focus in particular on how the dominance of Google and Facebook in online advertising has hurt the economic viability of local news organizations.
Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, who chairs the House Judiciary sub-committee responsible for the hearing, says the decline of local journalism has been one of the most devastating consequences of the rise of the tech giants, and must be illuminated.
“This is about the ability of people to access truthful, reliable local news which is essential to the functioning of our democracy,” he says. “The loss of a diverse and free press has consequences for the future of our democracy.”
As readership has shifted from print to online, local news organizations have been hit particularly hard by the stranglehold Google and Facebook have on digital ad money. One media investment firm estimated that the two companies would take in 85% of all digital ad spending for 2018. The revenue loss has been disastrous for the viability of local news. According to a 2018 report from the University of North Carolina, nearly 1 in 5 newspapers, nearly 1,800 in total, have closed over the last 15 years.
While Google and Facebook have both pledged hundreds of millions of dollars into initiatives to help mitigate this problem, Cicilline says it doesn’t solve the larger issue of adequately compensating news organizations for creating content.
“You’re seeing examples all over the country where local newspapers are going out of business, laying people off, and they don’t really have the ability to negotiate because these two companies are so large and so dominant.”