Local broadcast journalists and newspaper reporters provide a lifeline for our communities. From investigative reports to breaking news and weather coverage, they invest significant resources to keep Americans informed about critical events. And while misinformation runs rampant on social media, local broadcasters and newspapers provide "just the facts" reporting, utilizing fact checking teams to provide the most trusted news to communities.
The overwhelming size and power of Big Tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, dwarf local TV and radio stations and threaten Americans' access to quality local journalism. Not only do they pose major threats to advertising revenue, but they are gatekeepers of online content, exerting power over what internet users access and how advertisers reach them. When Big Tech wins, local communities lose.
Local broadcast journalists and newspaper reporters are on the ground covering the news that impacts every community, including lifesaving information during times of crisis.
Local broadcast stations provide these critical services for free, over the air, to their communities and are the most trusted source of news and reporting in the country. But the sourcing, reporting and production of this news is very costly. In most stations, news costs alone account for more than a third of total expenditures. For some stations that cost approaches half of their expenses.
Much of a local media outlet's budget comes from local advertising revenue. But over the past decade many of those dollars are being diverted to and consumed by a handful of massive online technology platforms. While these companies are taking the lifeblood of local journalism, they are not actually providing any of the critical local news reporting that Americans depend upon.
Tech Platforms Divert Ad Revenue and Resources from Local Stations
Tech giants exert enormous influence over what online content is eligible to be monetized. These platforms control the share of revenue they retain and the amount passed on to content providers that ironically bear the costs of producing the quality journalism that financially benefits Big Tech.
Because of the size and power of Big Tech, their policies are almost always "take-it-or-leave-it." Even though they disadvantage local stations, there is little power to negotiate because broadcasters would lose access to hundreds of millions of consumers if they simply declined to publish their content on these platforms.
Tech Giants Act as Gatekeepers, Controlling What Users See on Their Platforms
Beyond diverting advertisers - and crucial revenue - away from local broadcast stations, the digital platforms also control the technologies that power search and content discovery. Whether consumers use search engines, social networks, voice or video platforms, or even broadcasters' own apps to access news and other content, decisions made unilaterally by a few dominant tech giants impede local stations' ability to connect with their audiences online. Big Tech platforms' algorithms can change the rankings of search results, favor certain news sources over others and often steer users towards controversial content over high-quality journalism.
A Troubling Trend: The Loss of Local News
Radio and television stations depend on ad revenue to produce local news, which gives the community its voice. Without someone to shine a spotlight on local government, health care, education, environment and business development, there is less accountability in communities and a less informed electorate. This has been proven to decrease voter turnout and civic engagement.
The bottom line:
There has never been a more critical time for trusted local journalism - the very survival of newsrooms is being threatened. Providing and paying for high-quality local news coverage has become increasingly difficult, particularly when dwindling advertising dollars are being diverted to massive, multi-national technology platforms.
Congress should support laws and policies that uphold local broadcasters' unique and essential role in democracy and a free press, ensure their ability to compete in the current media marketplace, and continue to produce high-quality local content.