While tech CEOs are testifying before the Senate, at least one senator is accusing Google and Facebook of killing local journalism.
Google has been at the heart of multiple disputes over news, only recently agreeing to start paying news publishers. While Facebook has paid news publishers for some time, that didn’t save it from criticism in Senator Maria Cantwell’s report. Senator Cantwell is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Local journalism—America’s trusted source of unbiased and accurate information—is disappearing. This report finds that over the past two decades, the local newspaper industry has lost around 70 percent of its total revenue. Local broadcasters are facing similar difficulties, with advertising revenues down more than 40 percent.
These losses are leading to news deserts. Already, 200 counties nationwide have no newspapers covering their communities, and half of all U.S. counties are down to just one, a problem that is particularly acute in the South. Newspapers have been forced to let go more than 40,000 newsroom employees, a full 60 percent of the journalistic workforce that creates unique local content.
America’s local newsrooms now have thousands fewer watchdogs exposing crime, corruption, and keeping elected officials accountable to their constituents. Small businesses have less information on local conditions and fewer opportunities to reach customers in their community. Communities are losing access to trusted, non-partisan information that keeps our civil institutions cohesive and resilient.
Between the increased undermining of trust in the news and the threat posed by Google and Facebook, the last several years have been particularly hard on journalists. It remains to be seen if anything will come from the Senate hearings, let alone a solution that will reverse the “news deserts” Senator Cantwell speaks of.