News Outlets Band Together to Fight Facebook and Google for Visibility on the Web

Only days before Google and Facebook would publicly reaffirm their commitment to open, equal access to information during the Net Neutrality Day of Action, the News Media Alliance expressed concern that the Internet powerhouses are unfairly dictating how consumers see news by controlling the digital advertising market.

The News Media Alliance (NMA) represents about 2,000 news organizations, in both the print and digital spheres, and its mission is to “keep the world informed.”

To achieve this goal, the Alliance announced on July 10 that competing sources like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, as well as many others, would be calling on Congress to propose legislation that would allow news organizations to act as a collective in negotiations with Google and Facebook on how news and information is shared on the web.

Fortune found that Google and Facebook account for 75 percent of the digital advertising market, and the Internet Advertising Bureau reported that Top 25 companies commanded 83 percent of revenues in the last quarter of 2016.

Source: IAB Internet advertising revenue report 2016 full year results

“Because of this digital duopoly, publishers are forced to surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritized and monetized,” read the NMA’s press release. “These rules have commoditized the news and given rise to fake news, which often cannot be differentiated from real news.”

Though Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg recommitted to fighting fake news after the 2016 election, Facebook’s algorithms still rapidly change and news outlets struggle to keep up.

Wallaroo Media wrote a comprehensive breakdown of major changes in Facebook’s algorithm that businesses, like newspapers, need to be aware of. The site states that nine critical changes have been made to the algorithm in 2017 alone.

“Legislation that enables news organizations to negotiate collectively will address pervasive problems that today are diminishing the overall health and quality of the news media industry,” said NMA President and CEO David Chavern in the release.

Antitrust laws — which would prevent this type of negotiation — are tied up with the United States’ history of capitalism.

While some industries like agriculture and professional sports currently benefit from antitrust law exemptions, a major snag for journalism was the Newspaper Preservation Act. It allowed newspapers to combine their business operations while keeping editorial decisions separate.

Some scholars believe extending complete exemptions to newspapers is harmful. Further, critics believe banding together will not save newspapers at all.

Still, Chavern wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that “the only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook — pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data — they could build a more sustainable future for the news business.”

Google also recently responded to the NMA’s proposal.

“We want to help news publishers succeed as they transition to digital,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC via email. “In recent years, we’ve built numerous specialized products and technologies, developed specifically to help distribute, fund and support newspapers. This is a priority and we remain deeply committed to helping publishers with both their challenges and their opportunities.”

While Google expressed willingness to work with news organizations to create an environment where consumers have access to quality opinions, Congress has just postponed its recess to tackle the GOP’s attempt to make good on campaign promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Consequently, it is unclear where this legislation will land on Congress’ agenda, if it lands at all.

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