SIGN ON TO OUR OPEN LETTER
If you’re a news outlet, publisher, union, coalition, campaign, or corporate entity who wants to join this project on the front lines, add your organization’s name and logo to our sign-on letter:
TO OUR FELLOW AMERICANS:
This is uncomfortable for us. The ethos of our industry correctly commands that we refrain from any activity that could be interpreted as advocacy. But those constraints have prevented us from telling an important story, one that is quietly destroying one of the foundations of our democracy.
Now we must speak out: American journalism faces an existential threat from tech giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook.
The monopolistic power of big tech is undermining the economic sustainability of the entire journalism industry. They have unrivaled capabilities to monetize content that is distributed on their platforms which they did not produce. They have a stranglehold on the digital advertising market. And they announce changes to their platforms at their glitzy conferences that without warning can have sweeping consequences for entire industries, particularly content producers like news publishers.
The transition to digital media has ravaged traditional news publishers. Newspapers shed 45% of their workforce from 2008 to 2017. Bedrock papers covering huge metropolitan areas have either shut down or are now just a shell of their former selves. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has just 33 reporters to serve a community of more than two million people, a 90 percent reduction since the turn of the century. Earlier this month, the New Orleans Times-Picayune was sold, ending its 182-year run and leaving all 161 of its staff unemployed.
The business model of the journalism industry is based on advertising revenue, and it has been collapsing. In 2000, advertising made up more than 80 percent of the total revenue for news publishers, with subscriptions contributing just 18 percent. By 2017, advertising revenue had shrunk by more than two-thirds while that from subscriptions was basically flat.
Advertising revenue didn’t disappear; businesses still spend billions to get their products in front of consumers. The revenue has just shifted from traditional print ads to digital. And the tech giants dominate digital ads. Google and Facebook control nearly two-thirds of all digital ad revenue and are gobbling up nine out of every ten new dollars spent in this growing market.
It’s no wonder that newsrooms are shutting down and all types of media professionals are being laid off. In 2018 alone, more than 15,000 journalists and media staff lost their jobs. In the first months of 2019, another 2,500 reporters have joined the ranks of the unemployed. And it’s not just the death of the traditional newspaper, even previously successful digital outlets are also slashing staff at an alarming rate.
This is having a massive impact on how news is reaching the American people. It’s creating “news deserts” in more than 1,300 communities across the country that no longer have any local news coverage. It’s exacerbating the fake news problem by incentivizing the sensational and cheap in the search for clicks over high-quality journalism that Americans can trust. And it’s changing the way major events, like the Iowa Caucuses, are covered, as the Des Moines Register is forced to pull reporters off other beats in an already short-staffed operation just to track the candidates.
James Madison said that “knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.”
We are speaking out because Americans’ access to knowledge is under threat. The economic sustainability of America’s free press must now be on the national agenda. The monopolistic power of the tech giants threatens one of the cornerstones of American democracy. Join us in our fight to Save Journalism.