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Opinion: Bill is critical to local journalism's future
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Opinion: Bill is critical to local journalism's future

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Fairness is not a partisan issue. 

Fairness is the goal of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act currently being considered in the United States Congress. The bill has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

H.R. 1735/S. 673 is critically important to protecting the future of high-quality, local journalism in Montana and across our nation. Support is growing for the legislation, yet much more needs to be done before it can become law.

This bill would make negotiations for fair compensation possible between publishers of news content and those who monetize the online distribution of that work. Facebook and Google are the two primary online platforms that take news stories created by local newspapers, radio and television newsrooms and distribute that content to their large online audiences. Those two social media platforms pay little to nothing for the content created by local news organizations.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act — also known as the “Safe Harbor bill” — would simply create a four-year window for news organizations to collectively negotiate fair prices for the content they create under a safe harbor from federal anti-trust laws. Existing laws make it difficult for news publishers — especially small, local and regional publishers — to obtain fair compensation from the giant online platforms for the use of their news content.

The name of the bill is not hyperbole. As more readers move to digital platforms to find local news, it is vitally important that news organizations footing the bill to create the content be fairly compensated for its distribution.

Journalism — especially local journalism — is more important than ever. Readership is rising even as revenue generated by those readers is falling. This bill would help local news publishers negotiate with the dominant tech platforms fair prices for the stories they create.

Recent experiences in Australia and Europe demonstrate that other countries recognize the disparity in bargaining power between news publishers and Facebook and Google and are moving toward a new compensation model for publishers, one that ensures equitable terms are offered to all publishers and that platforms participate in good faith.

The revenue shared by the online giants in exchange for the news stories that drives their traffic would help pay the salaries of local journalists who keep Montana communities from becoming news deserts.

Across the United States, more than 2,000 local newspapers have closed their doors since 2004. That is 2,000 communities with little or no reporting about local governments, businesses, community happenings and sports. With no local journalism, communities suffer.

Now is the time to act before it is too late and even more communities across our nation become news deserts.

It is important for the three members of our Montana congressional delegation to support this bill and acknowledge the essential role of journalism in a functioning democracy.

Please join us and our colleagues at the 84 weekly and daily newspapers across Montana urging U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester and U.S. Congressman Matt Rosendale to support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.

This editorial is signed by Jim Strauss, publisher of the Missoulian and Ravallie Republic; Anita Fasbender, publisher of the Helena Independent Record and Montana Standard (Butte); Dave Worstell, publisher of the Billings Gazette; and the Montana Newspaper Association board of directors. 

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