I just sent a letter opposing the so-called California Journalism Preservation Act that is now in the Senate. This is what I said (I’ll skip the opening paragraph in my journalistic good faith):
Like other well-intentioned media regulations, the CJPA will result in a number of harmful and unintended consequences. I fear it will back the results of predatory hedge funds and billionaires who are extracting cash flow from the once great California newspapers without concern for the information needs of California communities. I’ve seen it firsthand, having once served on the Digital First digital advisory board of Alden Capital, owner of the Bay Area News Group. To them, any income from any source is fungible and I doubt any CJPA money is actually going to strengthen journalism.
The best hope for local journalism is not the old news industry and its protectionism-seeking lobbyists. Instead, it will come from startups, some not-for-profit, some small, that serve local communities. These are the kinds of journalists we teach in the Business Journalism program I started at my school. These enterprising journalists will not benefit from CJPA and their businesses could be stymied by this non-market intervention that favors established competitors. From a political perspective, I’d like to see how California could encourage new competition, not stifle it. I agree with the April letter from LION Publishers.
More importantly, the CJPA and other laws like it violate the First Amendment and break the Internet. The links are voice. The editorial choice is the discourse. No publisher, no platform, no one should be forced to link or not link to content, especially the types of extremist content that are ruining American democracy and who could benefit from CJPA by giving them a chance to force platforms to air their harmful speech. . .
Please note that the objects of this legislation, Facebook and Google, would be well within their rights to stop promoting news if they are forced to pay for the privilege of linking to it. When Spain passed its link tax, Google News withdrew from the country, and publishers and citizens alike suffered for years as a result. Meta just announced that it will pull news from its platforms in Canada as a result of its C-18 bill. News is frankly of little value to platforms. Facebook has said that less than four percent of its content is related to news, Google not much more. No one makes money from the news.
CJPA could achieve the exact opposite of its goal by ensuring that less news reaches Californians than it does today. The just-published Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford makes it clear that, more than ever, citizens begin their news journeys not with news brands, but end there via social media and the search:
Across all markets, only around a fifth of respondents (22%) now say they prefer to start their news journey with a website or app; 10 percentage points since 2018…. Younger groups around the world show a weaker connection to news brands’ websites and apps than older cohorts, preferring to access news via secondary routes such as social media, search or mobile aggregators.
Tremendous value accrues to publishers from platform links. By lobbying against internet platforms that benefit them, news publishers are cutting off their noses to spite their faces, and this legislation gives them the knife.
In a prescient 1998 article by the RAND Corporation of Santa Monica, “The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Back to See Forward,” James Dewar argued persuasively for “a) keeping the Internet unregulated, and b) take a much more experimental approach to information policy Societies that regulated the printing press suffered and continue to suffer today compared to those that did not.” In my new book, Gutenberg’s parenthesisI agree with your conclusion.
I fear that California, its media industry, its journalists, its communities, and its citizens will suffer from the passage of the CJPA.