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The News Media Alliance appeals to Congress as it takes on the online content duopoly

The News Media Alliance, which represents almost 2,000 news organizations, has asked Congress to allow publishers to negotiate collectively with Google and Facebook as they constitute “a de facto duopoly that is vacuuming up all but an ever-decreasing segment of advertising revenue”.

According to a release, the objective is to permit publishers to have discussions with these two dominant distributors of online news content on “business model solutions to secure the long-term availability of local journalism produced by America’s newsrooms”.

That’s because existing laws prevent news organizations from working together to negotiate better deals that the News Media Alliance said would sustain local, enterprise journalism critical to democracy.

“Consumer demand for immediate, reliable information is growing, but the current online distribution systems are distorting the flow of economic value derived from good reporting,” the release said. “Google and Facebook dominate online news traffic and consume the bulk of digital ad revenue. Because of this digital duopoly, publishers are forced to surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritized and monetized. These rules have commoditized the news and given rise to fake news, which often cannot be differentiated from real news.”

In a statement, David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, added: “Legislation that enables news organizations to negotiate collectively will address pervasive problems that today are diminishing the overall health and quality of the news media industry. Quality journalism is critical to sustaining democracy and is central to civic society. 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.”

According to Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade organization focused on digital content companies and that shares some of the same members with the News Media Alliance, the most important thing to make of this is the dominance of Google and Facebook is absolutely real – and the duopoly is real.

At the same time, he said mobilizing and passing laws in the current environment is probably fairly difficult.

“Two companies are capturing all the growth in digital advertising. What’s unique about Google and Facebook is they are able to mine data across the web as part of free services and they are being discussed more and more as monopolistic utilities,” Kint said. “You can’t not use Google to search, you can’t not use Facebook as your social network, so these free services, they’re utilities…the news and entertainment discovered on them is thriving. What is their role? I think probably more impactful from a policymaker discussion is what is happening in the EU with its Google anti-trust decision.”

And this, Kint said, is in part why Digital Content Next launched TrustX, an automated online ad marketplace that seeks to bring greater transparency to automated online advertising and allows marketers to buy ads from publishers like Condé Nast, Hearst, the Washington Post, Meredith and News Corp.