Sen. Cantwell Report Finds State of Local News is Bleak

In Local News’ Hour of Need, Tech Giants and Vulture Capitalists Dive in for the Kill

Today Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, released a new report highlighting the state of local news in the digital era. The situation seems bleak— of the many sobering findings, the report found:

  • Over the past two decades, the local newspaper industry has lost around 70 percent of its total revenue.
  • 200 counties nationwide have no newspapers covering their communities.
  • Newspapers have been forced to let go a full 60 percent of the journalistic workforce that creates unique local content. 
  • Newspapers will likely lay off another 7,000 employees in 2020.

Transitioning to the digital era was already not an easy task for local news, but that challenge has been exacerbated by the abusive practices of the tech giants. Google and Facebook leverage their dominant platforms to collect so much data on everyone on the internet, including the readers of local news outlets, that they know more about a newspaper’s reader than the outlet does. Google and Facebook claim exclusive rights over this data, creating walled gardens to discriminate against competitors and put local news outlets at a competitive disadvantage. 

One possible remedy is to lessen the power of these walled gardens by requiring interoperability across systems, like what allows cell phones to work on different carriers. Requiring that consumer data be accessible across networks would tear down the walled gardens and restore a measure of competitive balance to the online marketplace.  The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee report into the tech giants made this recommendation. The Senate Commerce Committee should press the tech CEOs at its hearing on Wednesday. 

The following is a statement from Laura Bassett, former Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost who was laid off in January 2019, and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project:

Local news is imperative to our communities. Reporters act as watchdogs for public officials, update on community events, risk their lives during a global pandemic or nation-wide protests to get accurate information to their communities… The list goes on. But as we’ve seen, Google and Facebook have no intention of helping us preserve the fourth estate. They know they are part of the problem and have refused to be part of the solution to save local news. Local news is a pillar of a functioning, healthy democracy and right now it is in peril without further oversight and actions from legislators.