The New Gatekeepers

Is a newspaper oligopoly better than a web duopoly?

March 7, 2018

Newspaper companies have gotten their wish: A bill introduced on March 7 by Democratic Senator David Cicilline (of Rhode Island) would give them an exemption from antitrust so they could seek collective remedies against Facebook and Google. News Media Alliance head David Chavern has been calling for this for some time:

Chavern says the alliance is seeking changes in five areas: platforms should share data about the publishers’ readers; better highlight trusted brands; support subscriptions for publishers; and potentially share more ad revenue and consider paying for some content. Silicon Valley companies swallowed a number of industries on their way to the top of the stock market. But Chavern believes the news business warrants intervention because of its role in a healthy democracy. “The republic is not going to suffer terribly if we have bad cat video or even bad movies or bad TV. The republic will suffer if we have bad journalism,” he says.

The senator says the bill would limit the action that the companies could take—for example, it would theoretically prevent them from colluding on price. But that seems to be exactly what Chavern has in mind, judging by his comments. And while Google and Facebook may have an advertising duopoly, is giving more power to a failing oligopoly really the best way to deal with that?

Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.