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Monday, July 8, 2024 | Back issues
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Journalism preservation bill advances through California Legislature

Proponents say they want to help keep the Fourth Estate alive, but critics say the plan is likely unconstitutional.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Artificial intelligence won’t chase a California lawmaker down the hall for a quote, but a flesh-and-blood journalist will.

Matt Pearce, president of Media Guild of the West, argued that’s why the California Journalism Preservation Act needs to reach the governor’s desk.

The legislation — Assembly Bill 886, written by Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, of Oakland — appeared Tuesday before the state Senate Judiciary Committee. It passed the committee and now advances to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“What’s on the line with a bill like this is democracy itself,” said state Senator Steve Glazer, a Contra Costa Democrat and co-author of the bill.

The bill is a means to provide funding to what lawmakers called an industry in demise. It would require large online platforms — those with annual net sales or market capitalization of $550 billion or over a billion active monthly users worldwide — to pay digital news providers.

The hearing mostly focused on Meta, the owner of Facebook, and Google.

There are two possible methods of determining the monetary amount. Affected platforms would pay an annual sum, though the method of determining that amount hasn’t yet been reached. Alternatively, it could reach that amount through arbitration.

California digital news publishers would receive funds based off the number of journalists they have. Small publishers could receive compensation for what they spend on independent contractors for journalism.

The bill would require 70% of the money received, or 50% for smaller publishers, be used for journalists and support staff.

According to Wicks, an average of 2 1/2 newspapers close every week, and two-thirds of newspaper journalists have lost their jobs since 2005. A large reason for this is big tech using the news stories written by these outlets, selling ads and providing no compensation to the media companies.

Wicks argued that the Fourth Estate, a phrase used for the media, is necessary for civic health. In this case, the health of the media shouldn’t be left to the marketplace to determine.

Martha Aszkenazy, owner and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol newspaper, has owned her publication for over 20 years. It provides news to a blue collar and immigrant population, and like all newspapers is struggling. She said Big Tech opposes the bill because they’ve broken the market.

“They don’t pay our journalists to take photos and write our news, but they profit off it anyway,” she said.

Jeff Jarvis, formerly with The City University of New York’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, opposed the bill. According to Jarvis, the money directed to media companies will mainly benefit hedge funds. Jarvis also called the legislation “likely unconstitutional.”

Jarvis said Big Tech will merely remove news stories from their platforms if the bill passes. He favors an independent fund that would distribute funds based on merit and examined outcomes.

According to Jarvis, Meta lost no value when it previously removed links to news stories. However, those links have massive value to news publishers.

“I think there’s a sweet spot somewhere,” said state Senator Anna Caballero, a Merced Democrat.

Wicks called the bill a work in progress, noting that she wants to work with opponents on its language.

State Senator Roger Niello, a Fair Oaks Republican, said one of his concerns was government acting as a “savior” to media, which is supposed to hold government accountable. He echoed Jarvis’ argument, saying that over 50% of newspapers in the country are owned by hedge funds or individual investors.

Niello also was concerned about unintended consequences, like Big Tech changing its business practices because of the bill.

“When the patient is dying on the ground, you need a powerful blow to resuscitate it,” Glazer said.

Categories / Law, Media, Regional

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