Same Misguided Journalism Bills, Different Calendar Year

Last Congress, hedge fund Alden Global Capital and Big Media conglomerates like Gannett and Sinclair Broadcast Group orchestrated a covert campaign to coax Congress into establishing a government-mandated bailout for the largest media organizations in America. The proposal they devised was dubbed the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA).

Despite their best efforts, Big Media has repeatedly failed to convince federal lawmakers to pass the JCPA. As a result, their new plan is to coax state legislatures in places like California into advancing their deviously named bailout.   

Based on its egregious incentive structure, however, the JCPA – and the California-specific proposal, the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) – represent the inverse of instilling “journalism competition” or supporting the “preservation” of local news. At their core, the JCPA and CJPA would require the government to force one industry (technology platforms) to funnel revenue directly to a select few conglomerates in another industry (news). 

What’s been gradually revealed over the last three years is Big Media has served as the influence offensive’s chief architect, primary advocate and largest beneficiary

With Sinclair Broadcast Group telling investors that the JCPA represents a lucrative business opportunity and Gannett executing a $100 million stock buyback plan, it is clear that Big Media’s primary aim is to generate profits. Rewarding Big Media for their unflinching commitment to buy up and shut down publications would do nothing to support independent newspapers and local journalists. 

If policymakers wanted to facilitate a financial boon for Big Media shareholders, then the JCPA and CJPA would do the job.

Given their prominent advocacy for the federal and California-specific bailouts, you’d assume Big Media would try to shed their “vulture capital” bonafides. Instead, they’ve done the opposite. By going on local media shopping sprees and subsequently cutting and shrinking news staff – including the San Diego Union-Tribune in California – Big Media has been doubling down on its notorious cut-at-any-cost track record. 

The former publisher of the independent, Pennsylvania-based Chestnut Hill Local sounded the alarm bell in October, explaining a dire situation for local publications: “Independent newspapers all over the country are closing or selling to major chains or hedge funds such as Alden Global Capital. It’s like sending your dog to live with Cruella DeVil because you can’t afford to feed it.” 

Addressing local news challenges is a worthwhile goal. But flushing a handful of media conglomerates full of cash by government decree while they continue to wipe out local reporters and community-focused publications would only exacerbate the problem. 

So far, the JCPA has failed to pass through Congress, in part because of its adverse impact on independent, local news. The bill’s failures to date, however, have only helped fuel Big Media to rev its opposition efforts up a notch. For instance, when facing the JCPA’s demise last year, Gannett supplemented its lobbying campaign by pressuring newspaper editors to publish editorials supporting the bill. With the JCPA and CJPA reemerging, who knows what ethical boundaries Big Media will consider crossing next?

Legislatively siphoning funding from one industry to bolster bad actors in another would set a dangerous precedent. Even worse, if Congress or California passes either the JCPA or the CJPA, the government-backed blank checks will be cashed by the same Big Media conglomerates responsible for scrapping local news.