President Joe Biden is making an outstanding statement in support of the free press this week.
Opening Biden’s Summit for Democracy is a session on “the importance of media safety, freedom, and sustainability in the health and vitality of democratic societies,” the agenda states.
This was suggested in June by this column. It would be nice to think that had some influence.
But there’s been a crescendo of calls to defend, revive and sustain the free press, to the point that not addressing the issue would be inexcusable at an event intended to strengthen democracy.
Those developments include promising bills in Congress to save local journalism, and eloquent pleas by policymakers urging colleagues and the public to support them.
Then in October, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to heroic journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia. Both are scheduled to speak at Thursday’s session, which is streaming online via state.gov starting at 3 a.m. Pacific.
The summit agenda says the media panel, opening with an introduction by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, will explore ways to protect and support both journalists and the industry. More than 100 countries were invited to participate in the summit.
“Given the increasing challenges journalists face all around the world, is it time to rebuild journalism, not simply as a media sector, but as a piece of essential infrastructure for any functioning democracy?” the agenda states.
Intriguingly, the agenda floats the idea of large-scale public support, as some press advocates have suggested in recent years:
“What would a New Deal for journalism look like, and what national and international commitments are required to foster consistently independent, reliable, accessible and compelling public-interest journalism all around the world?” it asks.
This is an especially good conversation for United States leaders to have with other democracies, some of which are ahead of the U.S. in finding ways to preserve local journalism, such as addressing anti-competitive and unfair practices by tech giants.
One exemplar is Canada, whose minister of foreign affairs, Mélanie Joly, is giving closing remarks at the session.
Canada is close to implementing Australian-style rules forcing Google and Facebook to fairly compensate publishers for news appearing on their platforms. I wrote about that in September, and the U.K.’s Press Gazette recently reported that the policy could take effect in mid 2022.
Kindle News coming? Amazon.com may be looking to add newspapers to the bundle of content offered through its Kindle Unlimited service, similar to the Apple News Plus product.
That’s my speculation based on a survey Amazon emailed a few days ago.
The survey asked whether recipients had subscribed to newspapers on its Kindle devices and whether they knew magazine content is already bundled with the service.
Then the survey listed 17 daily newspapers, including The Seattle Times and a few other regional papers, as well as national papers like The Washington Post.
“If Kindle Unlimited added the newspaper titles you read regularly or are interested in from the prior question, how likely would you be to subscribe in the near future ($9.99 per month for access to these and other magazines, plus eBooks and audiobooks)?” it asked.
Scott Roesch, who handles Kindle Unlimited content, declined to comment. A spokesperson said “we don’t comment on future plans.”
Apple News, which offers access to a bundle of newspapers and magazines for the same price, received a lukewarm response from newspapers. They are increasingly sophisticated about digital audiences and wanting to manage stories’ presentation and customer relationships themselves.
Publishers are also rightly skeptical of tech giants.
That’s partly from now having years of experience with various news partnerships. Federal investigations also affirmed that Google and Facebook in particular aren’t playing fair and are suffocating the industry, prompting dozens of publishers to sue the companies.
We’ll see what Amazon is cooking, if anything. Being chaired by The Washington Post’s publisher, the Seattle company might find a winning formula. Maybe it’s looking to improve newspaper consumption on Kindle devices, which is a mixed bag and can involve duplicate subscriptions.
My suggestion is that Amazon one-up Apple by forgoing revenue-sharing turnstile schemes, especially for papers beyond the rarefied few competing on a national or global scale. Apple is already being pushed in that direction by competition regulators.
Leapfrog Facebook and Google by simply paying publishers large and small for commercial subscriptions, compensating them for content that adds value to the platform. This should be the new model, and it’s already happening in Australia, parts of Europe and soon Canada.
Trusted news content is publishers’ most valuable intellectual property. It should be paid for, especially by wealthy companies competing for news readers’ attention and subscription dollars.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Visit the new Save the Free Press web site at st.news/SavetheFreePress.