Journalism is the lifeblood of democratic engagement, yet we have allowed the decimation of local news to continue at a furious pace.
For more than a decade, tech giants built the world’s most valuable companies off the backs of journalists while siphoning off revenue from news publishers by creating digital advertising monopolies.
Google and Meta, in particular, now play an “integral and inescapable” role throughout the entire news value chain. Yet despite the fact that these monopolies provide critical infrastructure to news outlets, our laws and regulations have not caught up with this reality.
Historically, we have used government policies to structure competition in media markets and orient them in the public interest. California’s efforts to do just this is a step in the right direction.
The California Journalism Preservation Act is an opening salvo in the battle to rein in the power of Big Tech and establish a more equitable negotiation process with a fairer distribution of profits. The CJPA, formally known as Assembly Bill 886, makes a valiant effort to create new funds for hiring journalists and supporting media outlets that serve California’s citizens.
If Australia’s experience with similar legislation is any guide, we should expect hundreds of new journalism jobs to be created.
Google and Meta fiercely oppose this type of legislation, and have pursued heavy-handed tactics to derail similar laws, even prompting officials in Brazil and Canada to launch investigations to uncover the magnitude of interference in the legislative process.
These companies have also tried to buy off news outlets with grants, fellowships and participation in special news products. They also scare smaller publishers with the idea that they’ll lose out or be cut out of their products entirely, assuming they make good on their threats to censor news in California.
The paltry sums Big Tech has so far coughed up not only undervalue news but also leave news outlets with no leverage, while making them beholden to the “benevolence” of the tech platforms they must cover.
This is why the CJPA is so important. Collective bargaining and a regulatory framework that requires negotiation increases the power of local and smaller news outlets. An important yet often overlooked feature of the CJPA is that it creates a forum for negotiations to take place, in which California publishers can negotiate how these companies use their content to improve their services – as well as strip their content for the large language models underpinning the AI revolution.
Critics argue that the CJPA would primarily benefit large media outlets, but the fact that large news organizations benefit is not necessarily a bad thing: they employ thousands of people, create jobs, conduct expensive investigations and lobby on behalf of journalism. They also generate and receive the most traffic from tech platforms.
The multibillion-dollar behemoths Google and Meta have successfully exploited this divide between large and small publishers by narrowing the discussion to focus on clickthrough rates and traffic, all while haggling over the equivalent of pennies. Unfortunately, news publishers have bought into this narrow conception of value, which equates value with pageviews and disregards the ways that journalism improves their platforms, even if users aren’t looking for news or don’t click through on a headline.
A recent study found that the integration of journalistic content in Google search results positively affects user satisfaction and success rates, translating into millions of dollars in revenue. Researchers have found that the value of news is far higher than policymakers or publishers think it is, with another study estimating that Google and Meta should owe at least $13 billion a year to U.S. publishers.
Furthermore, the narrow lens for value ignores the public interest served by journalism and the tax that is imposed on the public when local businesses can’t survive, civic life is reduced to engagement metrics, and local corruption proliferates because there is no on-the-ground watchdog holding those in power accountable.
The CJPA is not just legislation for the media industry; it is a crucial step toward preserving the public interest in California. It recognizes the foundational role of journalism in sustaining democracy, promoting accountability and maintaining civic life. It deserves the full support of lawmakers and press freedom advocates.
Courtney C. Radsch is the director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute.
CalMatters CEO Neil Chase formally opposed AB 886 as it was introduced last year. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the organization, newsroom or its staff.