Big Media Gets Bigger, Independent News Gets Smaller

In spite of its name, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) does not support the type of journalism in greatest need: local, independent outlets. This is not a coincidence. The loudest proponents of the federal JCPA and California’s near-identical version the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) are also the biggest media conglomerates like Gannett and Alden Global Capital. To the benefit of these behemoths, the JCPA and CJPA would codify into law a system that ensures Big Media gets bigger while independent news outlets get smaller.

Under the bills’ intricate funding scheme, publishers with the most to lose are independently owned. It’s an issue that compounds further on independent, nonprofit outlets like NPR and ProPublica, as well as nonprofit outlets that serve minority communities like El Tímpano. These publications, alongside local ones like CalMatters, The Times of San Diego, Voice of OC, Mission Local and more, are explicitly excluded from the profit structure purposely designed to only reward the biggest media conglomerates.

At its core, the JCPA encourages massive media companies to not just bypass antitrust law but explicitly provides an exemption for them to band together with other massive media companies to negotiate against technology platforms for payment. 

By forcing tech platforms to both carry and pay for content that is intentionally not inclusive of nonprofit outlets, the CJPA and JCPA will place the government’s thumb on the scale in favor of for-profit Big Media. 

To qualify, publishers are required to prove their bona fides not by the quality or relevance of their content, but by their pre-existing income. As a prerequisite, an outlet must bring in more than $100,000 in revenues. Forty-one percent of independent outlets do not qualify based on this minimum because they are often local news, small publishers, and outlets serving minority communities.

It’s clear that the legislations’ origin story features Big Media players like Alden Global Capital and Gannett as its chief architect, primary advocate and largest beneficiary. Their playbooks are filled with tactics that nonprofit and independent outlets would never consider: pressuring newspaper editors to publish editorials supporting the JCPA, planning a $100 million stock buyback plan for investors and gutting newsrooms across the country is more characteristic of for-profit media conglomerates.

The JCPA and CJPA’s goal is preservation of Big Media. For them, profits reign supreme. Nonprofits do not have the same priorities. Rather than work with small publishers to combat challenges in the media industry that are felt most acutely by local and nonprofit news outlets, Big Media is choosing to scapegoat tech platforms to benefit only themselves.

The bill’s carefully crafted language permits the biggest media companies in the U.S. to rein in new revenue streams while leaving independent publishers out in the cold. Its initial failure under bipartisan congressional scrutiny a few months ago hasn’t stopped industry beneficiaries from pushing full steam ahead though and the JCPA’s revival at the national level has been paired with the introduction in California this year as well. 

Given Big Media’s renewed, multipronged approach to deceptively undercut nonprofit news, it’s important to acknowledge what the JCPA and CJPA do in layman’s terms. At the behest of a government mandate, the bills pick and choose winners and losers. If Congress or the California legislature pass these bills, Big Media will win and nonprofit publications will lose, not on their merits or market forces, but by government edict.