With antitrust lawsuits and legislation looming, Google reportedly offered to split its ad-tech businesses.

It’s unclear whether the concessions, reported by The Wall Street Journal, are legit or would have any effect on the big-tech crackdown by federal and state regulators.

To me it sounds like a token reorganization, with Google telling the Journal that it has “no plans” to divest the businesses.

Still, the reported concessions may be read as a signal that antitrust investigations, enforcement and reform proposals haven’t lost steam and still have potential to effect major change.

Addressing unfair competition in digital advertising is one of several steps needed to save local news organizations.

The harm to local newspapers is called out in federal investigations into dominant platforms’ business conduct.

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President Joe Biden also highlighted this in his executive order on competition last year, which noted that “too many local newspapers have shuttered or downsized, in part due to the internet platforms’ dominance in advertising markets.”

The Journal notes that the Department of Justice is preparing a suit over Google’s allegedly anticompetitive ad business practices. A DOJ case over Google’s search monopoly was filed in 2020. My inquiry to Google’s press office wasn’t replied to by my deadline.

A coalition of state attorneys general is also suing Google over its advertising practices in a case going to trial next year. The states’ findings prompted a number of newspaper publishers to separately file private antitrust cases last year against the company.

Among the antitrust reforms proposed in Congress is a bill that would force Google to truly break up its ad business, which includes market-leading tools used to both buy and sell online advertising. But their chance of passage is unclear, especially with support “up in the air” for the current lead antitrust bills, to prevent self-preferencing and ease app-store restrictions, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Trust in newspapers: A Gallup poll found trust in newspapers fell in June to the lowest level in at least three decades of measurement. Just 16% of respondents had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers, down from 21% a year ago. Trust in TV news also fell 5 points, to 11%.

News outlets weren’t alone: Trust in most every type of institution fell, including churches, schools, banks and government, as the country entered an especially dour phase.

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Trust in the presidency fell 15 percentage points, to 23%, and the criminal justice system fell six points to 14%.

A big footnote is necessary: This poll didn’t differentiate between local and national news outlets.

Separate polling, released in May by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, found that trust in local news is much higher than trust in national outlets and held steady in recent years. It found 44% of Americans trust local news versus 27% who trust national news.

Local haves and have nots: News deserts are spreading unequally, hurting poor and older communities the most and “creating a nation of local news haves and have nots,” Report for America President Steve Waldman writes at Poynter.org, drawing on the latest “news desert” report from Northwestern University’s Medill School. “Wealthier communities always had more news choices. But at least moderate- and low-income communities had a baseline of solid local news providers. Now, increasingly, they don’t.”

Churn, churn, churn: Nearly a third of news outlets’ new digital subscribers cancel in the first 24 hours, according to paywall tech provider Piano, as reported at NiemanLab.org. Subscribers might be signing up to access a single story and deciding not to continue, suggesting news outlets must do more to retain these new readers. Piano also found users on mobile devices are less likely to subscribe than desktop users, and users coming from social media continue to have “very low conversion rates.”

Ex-Gannett paper: NPR checked in with Amy Duncan, who with her husband Mark Davitt bought the Indianola, Iowa, Record-Herald from Gannett. She was laid off from the paper earlier then started a local news website. Their first issue as publishers came out last week. “We might not be able to make it work, but we have to try. I mean, we have to let the residents of the county and the potential readers decide whether it survives,” Duncan said.

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