Saving America’s local free press system should be part of President Joe Biden’s ardent push to save democracy.

That’s needed now, as Congress considers a key bill to stabilize the news industry and level the playing field with dominant tech giants.

The nation’s top Democrat should help get the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act passed this year, before hundreds more papers fail and the local-news death spiral accelerates.

I’ve written several columns urging Biden to engage on this issue. But it’s urgent as the journalism and democracy crises worsen, and there’s a fleeting opportunity for an easy, low-cost response.

It’s also timely as Biden highlights threats to democracy, as he did in a Sept. 1 speech in Philadelphia.

With little to no local news coverage in thousands of communities nowadays, it’s no wonder America is more polarized and vulnerable to manipulation by deceptive politicians and countries undermining democracy to advance their interests and power.


Without local news, people become more dependent on national networks and social media that amplify division, distrust and resentment.

Democrats introduced the JCPA, which would temporarily allow news outlets to collectively bargain fair compensation from tech giants.

Yet the bill now has more Republican than Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate. The House version has more Democrat sponsors but is supported across the political spectrum, from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, D-Florida.

That’s bipartisan support for legislation that will strengthen democracy.

For Biden, engaging on JCPA would broaden his pro-democracy crusade beyond last week’s speech calling out the threat of authoritarian-leaning extremists and election deniers.

For Congress, JCPA is a fork in the road. Supporting the bill is a decision to help America’s free press system survive and evolve in a market skewed by tech giants.

Voting against JCPA, or sitting on the sideline as it dies, is effectively siding with Google and Facebook, accepting their anti-competitive business conduct, and helping the companies avoid paying up for news content they’ve been profiting from for years.


Tech giants appear to be getting their way in Congress after throwing truckloads of money around.

Bloomberg this week reported that the largest tech companies and their lobbying groups spent nearly $95 million since 2021 fighting antitrust reforms, particularly a bill prohibiting them from self-preferencing their products and services that’s now “at risk of failing.”

With JCPA, opposition is also coming from nonprofits and trade groups that receive money and other support from tech companies. Now that JCPA is close to passage, they’re nitpicking it to death, creating uncertainty and doubt and stalling progress.

The intensity of this flak attack is a testament to the JCPA’s importance. It shows how much tech giants want to preserve the status quo.

In that status quo, two newspapers a week are failing, most Americans can’t name their local mayor and Google parent Alphabet’s net income grew 89% last year, to $76 billion.

This catastrophe for democracy is documented in the book “News Hole: The Demise of Local Journalism and Political Engagement.”


Authors Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless wrote that “the hollowing out of daily newspapers, long the nation’s most vibrant and indispensable sources of community information, has had profound consequences for political engagement” affecting “big cities and small towns, red states and blue states, and voters of all kinds.”

Perhaps that’s why the JCPA has bipartisan, urban and rural support. It should be the least controversial of the antitrust bills on deck.

All it does is help news outlets negotiate compensation agreements with tech platforms, akin to commercial subscriptions, so outlets get paid more fairly for their work. It’s similar to successful policies enacted in Australia and Europe in response to unfair competition.

Collective bargaining especially helps smaller local and regional outlets that don’t have the negotiating clout of the few giant news organizations.

The bill requires arbitration if negotiations stall, which is necessary because tech platforms can be recalcitrant. In France, Google was fined 500 million euros last year for failing to negotiate in good faith with news publishers. In Spain, Google shuttered its news site for nearly eight years after being ordered to pay for news content on the site.

The JCPA also incentivizes outlets to invest in journalism. They’re seeking payment for stories they produce, and lower output lessens their negotiating position.


Multiple responses to the journalism crisis are needed, but none will succeed for long if the online marketplace remains heavily tilted against local news outlets, as House and Senate reports found.

Biden can bring perspective to this discussion and encourage Democrats to get it done. His administration has forcefully called for supporting the press in democracies abroad. He’s also working to strengthen America’s role as the standard-bearer for democracy.

That noble work is undermined if Congress and members of his own party decline to support America’s local free press system, allowing millions more voters to fall into the information abyss, and side instead with tech giants that their own government is suing for antitrust violations.