Share this storyThe News Media Alliance, a trade group representing almost 2,000 news organizations, has asked Congress for an exemption to antitrust law so that it can "negotiate collectively" with Google and Facebook.
The Alliance, formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America, complains that the two dominant Internet companies form a "de facto duopoly that is vacuuming up all but an ever-decreasing segment of advertising revenue."
The release continues:
Because of this digital duopoly, publishers are forced to surrender their content and play by [Google and Facebook's] rules on how news and information [are] displayed, prioritized, and monetized. These rules have commoditized the news and given rise to fake news, which often cannot be differentiated from real news."To ensure that such journalism has a future, the news organizations that fund it must be able to collectively negotiate with the digital platforms that effectively control distribution and audience access in the digital age," said News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern.
What isn't stated in the NMA news release is exactly what the Alliance wants to negotiate about. Presumably, the reason Alliance members need to band together is because they're going to ask the digital giants for better positioning for money and, perhaps, favored positioning for some of their content.
Will the newspapers use the threat of a legal challenge over intellectual property challenge to try to gain leverage? The Associated Press, AFP, and other news groups have sought payment from Google before. This step could be an attempt by smaller news organizations to gather their strength so they can muscle in on the same business plan. The idea is that search engines and news aggregators should have to pay for presenting even small bits of news like headlines, snippets or lead sentences. While, to tech companies, these small bits look like classic cases of "fair use" and not copyright violations, the issue has never been fully hashed out in a US court.
The other thing unmentioned by NMA is that Facebook and Google only share news with their consent. If they don't like the way their news is displayed, or the fact that information gets shared online without payment, they're free to walk away. They could design their own Internet-based tools and networks, or they could simply insist that readers pay for their print product or don't get it. The NMA's suggestion that news organizations are "forced to surrender" their product is hyperbolic, to put it mildly.
Of course, the NMA knows that won't work and that disconnecting from the online world would render even the biggest news companies irrelevant. What the members of NMA know is that they want to get paid more when their stories get shared online. And if they can band together, they might have a shot.
The reference to "fake news," a real problem in the past year, may reflect an additional demand that the NMA's product somehow be differentiated from some of the junk and spam that's out there. Facebook and Google have already committed to doing that, although, of course, it's arguable whether or not they've done enough.
Or mentioning "fake news" could just be an attempt to use a buzzword to get more attention and give new life to an aging idea of how to save US newspapers.