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How to Stop Google and Facebook From Strangling Journalism

A good place to start would be breaking up the tech giants, and regulating the online advertising market to ensure fair competition

It's long since time we brought these companies to heel. (Photo: Illustrated | EMILY KASK/AFP/Getty Images, neyro2008/iStock, Nusha777/iStock)

It's long since time we brought these companies to heel. (Photo: Illustrated | EMILY KASK/AFP/Getty Images, neyro2008/iStock, Nusha777/iStock)

The last two decades have been perhaps the worst in American history for journalism. After years of decline, newsroom employment fell a further 23 percent from 2008-2017—a trend which shows no sign of stopping.

There are three big reasons why. First, the rise of the internet, which undermined traditional newspaper revenue models, especially classified ads. Second, the Great Recession, which tanked employment of all kinds. Third and most importantly, the rise of online monopolies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

It raises a question: How can we stop these corporate behemoths from strangling the life out of American journalism? A good place to start would be breaking up the tech giants, and regulating the online advertising market to ensure fair competition.

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Spending on digital advertising is projected to surpass the traditional sort in 2019 for the first time, and you will not be surprised to learn where that money is going. Last year, Google alone was estimated to make more than $40 billion in online advertising with $4.7 billion of that coming from news content, according to a new report from the News Media Alliance. That is nearly as much as the $5.1 billion the entire American news industry earned in online ads. What's more, Google "only" accounts for 37 percent of the online ad market. Facebook makes up another 22 percent — an effective duopoly that has only been partially disrupted by (who else?) Amazon, which has moved aggressively into the market over the last few years and now takes up 9 percent.

That is why journalism has continued to flounder even as the broader economy has improved a lot, and why even digital native companies like Buzzfeed and Vox are struggling to keep their heads above water. For instance, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains, Google runs the major ad market (DoubleClick), is the largest purchaser on that market (through Adexchange), and has privileged access to all the valuable data thus obtained. Its "monopoly control is almost comically great," he writes — and that's just one company. Just as online ad revenue got to the point where it might replace print ads, internet behemoths have sucked up a huge majority of it, leaving news companies to fight over scraps, or desperately pivot to alternative revenue models like video content or subscriptions.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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