Small newspapers are finally fighting back against Big Tech using their content to grow ad revenue

By Gary Abernathy

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Google, Facebook thrive in part on backs of local papers

Just like the music industry had to fight for its rights in the digital age, and local TV stations have to regularly battle the cable giants for fair treatment, publishers of small and medium newspapers are finally banding together to demand that Google and Facebook share the wealth from the revenue they receive for the locally produced content they appropriate.

In my new Washington Post column, I address the struggles of local newspapers, which continue to cut staff or even close up shop, and the correlation to the rise of social media:

Why the cutbacks, when the demand for local news endures? One big reason is that platforms like Google are functioning less as navigator and more as gatekeeper. An analysis of data from the Web analytics firm Similarweb found that nearly 65 percent of Google searches in 2020 ended without a click on a result. People are increasingly satisfied with search engine summaries and don’t click through to the original sources, depriving the content creators of digital ad revenue. Small and medium newspapers are suffering most. Following the lead of a landmark suit filed in January by HD Media in West Virginia, owners and publishers of smaller newspapers are fighting back. Jeremy Halbreich is CEO of AIM Media, which owns small and midsize newspapers including the Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, Ohio, where I served as publisher and editor until 2018. Halbreich is among the publishers of 125 newspapers in 11 states who filed lawsuits in April against Google and Facebook.

The alleged backroom deal between Google and Facebook is something known internally at Google as “Jedi Blue,” designed to corner the digital advertising market, as I explain:

The investigations referenced by Halbreich centered on an alleged sweetheart deal between Google and Facebook that resulted in antitrust lawsuits filed by 10 state attorneys general in December. “The disclosure of the deal between the tech giants has renewed concerns about how the biggest technology companies band together to close off competition,” the New York Times reported. “The deals are often consequential, defining the winners and losers in various markets for technology services and products.” The publishers’ lawsuits cite studies demonstrating how Big Tech’s tactics harmed local newspapers — advertising revenue plummeted from $49 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017, industry jobs declined by 60 percent from 1990 to 2016, and about 20 percent of newspapers closed from 2004 to 2018 — with others operating as ghosts of their former selves.

I also discuss legislation moving through Congress to rein in Big Tech. The tech giants’ arrogance only grows, and their power in our society is frightening. Action must be taken to respond, and soon.

National Anthem, Marine’s ovation memorable at Reds

Lora and I went to a Cincinnati Reds game Thursday night. The Reds beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3, so that was good. The weather was perfect. That was good, too.

But there were two things that will long stand out for me, beyond the Reds’ win and the great weather. When the National Anthem was performed pre-game, the crowd of nearly 24,000 — the Reds lifted covid-related crowd limits back on June 2 — rose as one to their feet to honor America and the flag. It was more than the pro forma “please rise for our National Anthem” routine of bygone years. It was an enthusiastic moment that you could sense was at least in part intended as a meaningful response to the trend of kneeling during the anthem that has too often happened in recent years. Some ballplayers came out and stood for the anthem. Others were not visible.

The second most memorable event was a between-innings introduction of a colonel in the U.S. Marines, whose accomplishments were enumerated and who stood on the Reds’ dugout and waved as the crowd cheered wildly and appreciatively. I believe it was part of the Reds’ “Hometown Heroes” program. I can’t find anthing online identifying him or referencing his introduction. If I do, I’ll update this post. But the rousing and lengthy ovation was not only for this individual, but for everyone serving in our armed forces.

Both those things illustrated that among Cincinnati Reds fans, honoring our country, flag and anthem, as well as the men and women serving our nation, remains something people are proud to unabashedly demonstrate, loudly and clearly.

Have a great weekend!

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