Here’s a suggestion for Republicans in Congress, for when they get past the internal strife and back to whaling on Facebook.
Instead of trying to fix the problematic social-media company by applying the heavy foot of government, help the free market solve this one.
For starters, save America’s independent, local free press system.
Bipartisan solutions to the journalism crisis are already on the table and should appeal to Republicans, especially those fed up with excessive power that California tech companies and elite media have nowadays.
One reason Facebook is so influential is because America lost thousands of local newspapers. Many of the survivors are being squeezed to death by New York hedge funds and financiers.
Local publishers have been cornerstones of Main Street, especially in rural communities. Iowa, for instance, lost 52 newspapers, including five dailies, between 2004 and 2019.
Nationally, the loss of more than 2,000 papers in recent years left many Americans with no alternative for local news other than social-media companies.
So if you’re concerned about Facebook and its black box canceling some viewpoints while amplifying others, with no rhyme, reason or remedy, don’t let it become America’s default daily paper.
Legislation to help the press supports competition, local choice and local employers.
One proposal would stick it to Facebook and Google, so they’re less able to control the narrative.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) would let newspapers and broadcasters collectively negotiate with dominant digital platforms.
A similar policy the conservative government in Australia passed in February is already helping small and large publishers get paid for content that tech giants had been unfairly skimming for years.
This is especially needed by smaller outlets that don’t have the clout of The New York Times with platforms. They need a way to jointly negotiate.
The JCPA is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. The Senate version last week had two Republican sponsors (and two Democrats), and the House version had six Republicans and 13 Democrats.
More sponsors are needed, and the bill should be made at least as strong as Australia’s. That should be an easy call, especially for leaders who want to do something about the behavior of social-media companies and who support fair market competition.
A second proposal, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, would provide temporary help to stop the massive job losses at local news outlets.
It would offer tax credits of $250 for households’ local newspaper subscriptions and payroll tax credits for newspapers employing journalists. It would also offer tax credits to small businesses that spend on local advertising.
This is temporary assistance to sustain local news outlets as they retool and reposition to better compete. It does this by helping Main Street and American families with their tax bills.
Last year, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Yakima Valley Republican. It had strong bipartisan support in the House, including 20 Republicans and 58 Democrats.
The act should be reintroduced soon and needs more supporters, including Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.
These are two small but necessary steps to sustain the free press and address unfair competition in digital media and advertising.
Multiple responses are needed, including antitrust reform and enforcement. The latter includes federal lawsuits against Facebook and Google initiated by the Trump administration and state cases led by the Republican attorney general in Texas.
Results from those case will take years. Local news outlets can’t wait and need immediate help to survive.
Saving the local, free press dovetails with many conservative concerns.
Is government spending out of control? Make sure there are local newspapers investing in journalism to hunt for waste and hold bureaucrats accountable.
Concerned about election integrity? Our democracy is strong because it is a decentralized system with checks and balances. Local news outlets are a critical part of that system, serving as a watchdog and exposing fraud, while informing voters.
Worried that California social-media companies are dictating what people can see and read? If you’re a strong supporter of the Constitution, the solution isn’t more restrictions and government control, it’s to ensure there are trustworthy alternatives.
Upset that ordinary Americans aren’t being heard because the media is dominated by coastal elites and their progressive narrative? You won’t fix that by tweaking telecommunication liability laws.
Truly, the best solution is to save and revive local newspapers across the heartland, so people outside big cities have independent news outlets serving them, sharing their perspective and invested in their communities.
Editor’s note: Last week’s column misstated a news venture’s ownership. The National Trust for Local News jointly owns the Colorado News Conservancy, formed to acquire 24 suburban papers, with the Colorado Sun. The trust is not a co-owner of the Sun.