Bargaining bill for news companies still needs improvements

A revised version of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act still needs significant improvement, NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss says.

The revised bill, introduced yesterday by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and a bipartisan group of senators, would give news companies the right to bargain collectively with Google and Facebook to recoup revenue the social media giants have diverted from news organizations. 

The NewsGuild spent the last several months working to improve the bill, but it still lacks sufficient guardrails to make sure the added revenue is dedicated to employing journalists and to better serve readers, Schleuss said. 

“This bill has come a long way, but companies like Gannett show we need to make sure the money is spent on employing local journalists and providing the reporting our communities need,” he said.

Gannett is the largest newspaper chain in the country. CEO Mike Reed was compensated $7,741,052 in 2021, while Gannett journalists averaged just $48,419. And the company authorized $100 million in stock buybacks, according to its SEC filings.

“In the last two weeks Gannett has laid off dozens of local journalists while at the same time throwing money at stock buybacks, spending millions of dollars on executive compensation, and paying down debt instead of investing in local news,” Schleuss said. 

Over the last several months, the NewsGuild secured several improvements to the Senate version:

  • If bargaining with Google and Facebook is fruitless and disputes go to arbitration, a higher portion of the total pie would go to companies that employ more journalists
  • Companies like Gannett won’t have a large share of votes in bargaining and instead will get one vote, giving smaller publishers a greater voice in negotiations 
  • Companies are required to publish how much money they receive from the platforms yearly, making sure journalists and the public know how much of a windfall they’re getting and whether they’re investing the money in providing better local news coverage

In the past decade the U.S. has lost half of all local newspaper journalists and we’re on track to lose roughly one third of the newspapers we had in 2005 within just three years.

“The local news problem is a local jobs problem,” Schleuss said. “Too many hedge funds and private equity owners have hollowed out local newsrooms in favor of shareholders and Wall Street banks.

“It’s essential that money the JCPA will provide goes to employing journalists. We look forward to seeing improvements to the JCPA to make sure companies are staffing up newsrooms and not padding CEO’s pockets,” he said. 

Hundreds of Gannett workers briefly walked off the job earlier this month after the company threatened layoffs.