This special report you are reading is an extraordinary undertaking for a local regional newspaper. Typically, an antitrust/regulatory story of national scope is treated as a national business story with minimal local awareness.
Yet for The Seattle Times, this is the ultimate “local” story.
It is the story about the corporate greed and secrecy that have wiped out much of our nation’s local free press, put what is left on life support and now gravely threatens our 250-year experiment in democracy and self-government.
As leaders of one of only a handful of regional newspapers left with local stewardship, we believe we have an obligation to share this story with you.
Fifty years ago, we were a nation where communities across the land had local newspapers owned, written and edited by citizens of the community in which they lived. They were trusted sources of local relevant news and information. This infrastructure created vibrant communities with engaged citizens and, together, they supported a critical national consciousness.
What happened since 1950 to undermine this system and replace the national consciousness with a milieu of conflicting, contentious and angry views? Two things:
The demise of the local free press system
A long-term trend of absentee control and consolidation increasingly rewarded short-term profit maximization and encouraged news and journalism disinvestment.
The result is the loss of more than 20% of our local newspapers over the past 15 years and the loss of 36,000 newsroom jobs, more than half, since 2008. The initial losses were mostly weekly newspapers, which left news deserts in their wake, mostly in rural areas.
But the cancer of financial harvesting is now rapidly moving up the food chain and creating “ghost newspapers” in urban areas — newspapers so gutted of personnel and resources, they are unable to offer much meaningful or relevant local news.
News deserts and ghost newspapers force readers to seek news from other nonlocal sources. In my view, it appears the three primary ones are Facebook, Fox News and CNN.
The first two are the major spreaders of false and misleading information.
The rise of the internet
Barely 20 years ago, our nation’s leaders chose not to regulate the nascent internet, erroneously believing competition and innovation would flourish for the good of all.
Over the past decade, however, a small handful of companies have come to dominate the internet with no public service mandate or regulation.
On the commercial side, they have monopolized the digital-advertising market, gamed search, enabled foreign governments to influence our elections, fostered hate speech and enabled sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, and made it impossible for newspapers and other legitimate news organizations to profit from their own content or build an advertising base.
If our democracy is to survive we must rebuild the local free press system and reform the internet for public good. The good news is that big-tech abuses and arrogance are catching up to them.
The public is angry, especially about privacy abuses. The U.S. Department of Justice, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, other regulatory agencies and state attorneys general around the country are in active stages of investigations and considering reform actions.
Our focus in telling this story is centered on Facebook and Google because of their direct and profound negative impact on our free press, democracy and civility.
The Seattle Times is committed to helping you understand this epic reform effort as it unfolds. This special report employs a combination of national experts and Seattle Times journalists to help explain the 36-page somewhat technical report “Roadmap for an Antitrust Case Against Facebook.” The report was produced in June by the Omidyar Network.
You can help by staying informed and speaking out. The Washington state congressional delegation, on an admirable bipartisan basis, is among the savviest in the country in support of saving the free press. Let them know you appreciate their concern and efforts.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Let our congressional delegation know you support reform.
Follow legislative and related industry developments every Wednesday and Sunday in The Seattle Times Opinion’s Save the Free Press columns.
Sign up for our new biweekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter.
Sign up for Eli Sanders’ Wild West newsletter exploring the landscape of tech regulation.
Let your governor and state representatives know you support the state looking into ways to help.