JCPA: A Win for Media Corporations, A Loss for Local Journalism

Trust in mass media has hit an all-time low. One bright spot? Americans trust local media far more than other news sources. Alarmingly, this hard-earned trust is at risk of eroding away as local news outlets are decimated from buyouts by massive media corporations.

After missing quarterly earnings projections, Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper owner responsible for publishing more than 250 dailies and 300 weekly publications, announced looming layoffs. Given its long-standing strategy of buying out local media outlets and maximizing profits, it’s safe to assume small newspapers and regional reporters will be on the chopping block once again.

Gannett may not be a household name, but its flagship paper – USA Today – tops national circulation charts. Among journalists, however, Gannett is more synonymous with cost-cutting hedge funds like Alden Global Capital than any newspaper it owns. Before Gannett fired this latest warning shot at journalists, executives were proving their devotion to profit-first principles by cutting a third of employees and killing off weekly newspapers. During this same time span, Gannett also announced a $100 million stock buyback plan to line investors’ pockets. 

The newest scheme to boost revenues is to siphon off money from technology platforms. Gannett is going all in on the financial windfall from S. 673, the Journalism Competition and Protection Act. As drafted, the JCPA would codify the opposite of the intended goals identified in the legislation’s title. By creating a legal framework mandating platforms to carry and pay for its content on the internet, the legislation would establish a lucrative and stable revenue stream for Gannett, regardless of content quality, editorial integrity or the number of journalists hired.

The JCPA caps the number of employees to be eligible, discouraging corporations like Gannett from hiring more journalists. The legislation also lacks provisions to hold media conglomerates accountable, allowing them to continue to fire journalists and prioritize profit over publishing quality news. 

Breaking through the traditional firewall between funders and news editors, Gannett is pressuring papers it owns to publish op-eds and editorial boards supporting legislation that would provide the parent company with payouts. Yet, journalists represented by one local NewsGuild pointed out that “Congress needs to take a long look at companies like Gannett if it’s going to bend federal anti-trust laws and hand a blank check to news executives to help cover up their own corporate mismanagement.”

While Gannett is the largest media corporation buying up local news outlets and gutting newsrooms, it’s not alone. Among such companies, prioritizing profits is now the rule, not the exception. Far from solving the crisis, keeping newsroom staff or boosting the public’s trust, the JCPA will incentivize and preserve what companies like Gannett consider to be standard operating procedures in the industry: maximize profits at the expense of local journalism.