WASHINGTON – The News Media Alliance is scoring some legislative points against the much bigger K Street players Google and Facebook with a bipartisan Senate bill offered last week that would temporarily exempt publishers from antitrust laws.
The measure — sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — would free up news publishers to jointly bargain with big technology companies in a quest for a bigger slice of digital revenue. It's the companion to a House bill that Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., introduced this spring.
"Google and Facebook now control the news kingdom," Kennedy said in a statement. "We can't allow them to bully newspapers out of business."
Klobuchar said, "Without honest and trusted journalists reporting around the world and here at home, what is out of sight truly becomes out of mind, but we're seeing more and more independent and local news outlets close as 'fake news' rises.."
Though the news publishers lobby faces major hurdles to turning the legislation into law, the effort is part of a larger campaign to make the group, known until 2016 as the Newspaper Association of America, relevant in an age when most people get their news on screens, not on newsprint.
David Chavern, formerly with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, took over the group in late 2015.
"I have worked hard to basically change everything about the organization that can be changed and to reorient it to really try to fight for a digital future for news publishing," Chavern said. "We're going to need a better deal from the platforms if we hope to survive."
If lobbying revenue is any indication, it's an unfair fight. The News Media Alliance reported spending about $385,000 on federal lobbying during the first three months of this year, while Google and Facebook both disclosed shelling out nearly $3.4 million in the same period.
The legislation would give news publishers a temporary 48-month reprieve from existing antitrust laws, allowing them to band together to negotiate.
"We'll take what we can get," said Michael Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune Media Co., adding it should be long enough to make a difference.