Why the Newspaper Industry Wants an Antitrust Safe Harbor

The News Media Alliance, a group representing thousands of newspapers throughout the United States, is working to make the case that tech giants like Google and Facebook are large and powerful enough that newspapers should be allowed to collectively negotiate with the companies.

Does the future of journalism involve collective bargaining with major tech companies?

That may sound like a surprising conclusion, but it’s a direction that a leading newspaper industry group appears to be advocating.

On Sunday, News Media Alliance President and Chief Executive David Chavern made the case in a Wall Street Journal op-ed [subscription] that antitrust laws and legal precedent, as written and decided, threaten the free press by making it more difficult for traditional competitors to work with one another when dealing with Google and Facebook, two companies so significant that they represent 80 percent of all referral traffic received by major news sites.

“These laws, intended to prevent monopolies, are having the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position,” Chavern argued in his op-ed. “The digital giants benefit from legal precedent against collective action that has a chilling effect on publishers. Yet each newspaper or magazine on its own has only limited negotiating power.”

Chavern is pushing for a law to provide a limited safe harbor that would allow media outlets to negotiate with online platforms collectively. While first stating that this would be less necessary if antitrust laws were more strongly enforced, he then emphasized that a move in this direction “would grant media organizations the flexibility to expand innovative digital models of news distribution, while also giving them more ways to sustain high-quality journalism.”

According to The New York Times, Chavern’s call has broad support throughout the newspaper industry, with large papers like the Journal and Times, as well as a number of regional ones, backing the effort. The Alliance on its own represents about 2,000 newspapers, so the industry could prove an important force if allowed to work together in this way.

Particularly in need of such assistance are midsize dailies like the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which face challenges negotiating with the much larger platforms, according to that paper’s publisher, Mike Klingensmith.

“It is impossible for us to go as a one-off company and negotiate or even get an appointment with these companies,” Klingensmith said in comments to the Times.

The strategy, while coming with challenges that include a potentially tough-to-convince Congress, represents a different approach than that taken by the book publishing industry, which attempted to work with Apple on more favorable terms than it received from Amazon but ran into antitrust trouble.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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