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ICYMI: How Big Tech Killed Local Media & Over 250,000 Jobs Across the U.S.

Sep 14, 2022

ICYMI: How Big Tech Killed Local Media & Over 250,000 Jobs Across the U.S.

View the research here

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Tech Oversight Project spotlighted Big Tech’s role in killing local media, including over 250,000 jobs in local journalism in the process. Despite more and more people consuming news than ever before, local media outlets struggle to keep their doors open, nearly half of all U.S. counties only have one newspaper, and less than 25 companies control over 75% of daily newspapers in the U.S.

How did we get here? Big Tech stole publishers’ content. They stole their ad revenue. They then throttled their content – running them out of business. Now, millions of Americans live in media deserts, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, and we are subject to the whims of a few tech giants and their algorithms. We cannot allow this to stand.

“It’s not Big Tech’s ability to ‘innovate’ that made them the uncontrollable and monopolistic behemoths they are today. It’s because they are advertising marketplaces that found a way to steal local news content for free, insert themselves as a middle man between advertisers and consumers, and throttle local media – crippling their reach through self-preferencing and changes to the algorithm,” said Sacha Haworth, Executive Director of the Tech Oversight Project. “Google, Apple, and Facebook are directly responsible for media deserts, a poisoned landscape that resulted in private equity sapping up local outlets, and for killing over 250,000 local news jobs across the country. There is a direct throughline from the destruction of local journalism to the problems we face today, and we need to do everything we can to rectify those wrongs and kickstart sustainable journalism that keeps communities informed and challenges those in power.”

The full search document can be found here, and highlights can be found below:

Big Tech drove local news out of existence through anticompetitive advertising practices and using their content without compensation. 

  • Via news aggregation, since 2009, the number of people reading the news has increased fivefold to 146 million people a day. [CBS News, 6/11/19]

  • The News Media Alliance said a study had shown that 47% of online news consumers only “browse[d] and read news extracts” without clicking the links to the whole article on a newspaper’s page. [News Media Alliance, Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened, 10/27/20]

  • Google reportedly received nearly $4.7 billion in revenue from crawling and scraping news publishers’ content without paying the publisher for its use. [News Media Alliance, 6/10/19]

  • Tampa Bay Times’ Digital Chief, Conan Gallaty, said Apple kept “the furthest distance in engaging with regional and local publishers” between them, Google, and Facebook. Gallaty reported the paper received 79% of its outside web traffic from Google, 20% from Facebook and merely 1% from Apple. This is despite the fact that Apple News had 125 million monthly active users in August 2021. [Irish Times, 10/30/18]

  • The stories chosen by Apple News’ news curators regularly received more than 1 million visits each. [Irish Times, 10/30/18]

  • In Apple News’ trending stories section, not a single locally or regionally specific source was cited over a 62-day period, and only ten outlets accounted for 74.8% of articles. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/10/19]

Big Tech took local news’ profits through its grip on the digital ad market. 

  • Google and Facebook held a duopoly on the supply side of display advertising, which accounted for 40% of the digital advertising market. Facebook held 50% of the total digital display ad supply. Google maintained 90% of the ad server market for publishers. [Omidyar Network, Roadmap For Digital Advertising Monopolization Case Against Google, May 2020]

  • 77% of a twelve-billion-dollar digital advertising industry in local markets that used to go to local newspapers moved to Google and Facebook, leading to the Wall Street Journal remarking “while Google and Facebook have siphoned ad dollars away from all publishers, local news publishers have been the hardest hit.”  [WSJ, 7/10/17]

  • The former CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s media group, Terry Kroeger, noted that Google had “close to zero content-creation cost” but could “turn around and sell the lion’s share of the advertising. [WSJ, 5/4/19]

  • Google’s business model was focused on earning revenue from digital advertising, with 80% of its $183 billion in revenue in 2020 coming from its advertising business. The ad revenues Google was projected to earn in 2020 exceeded the combined ad revenues of all TV and radio stations in America. [Gizmodo, 12/7/21]

  • Big Tech picks algorithmic winners and losers. For example, when Facebook changed its algorithm in 2018 to show users more posts from friends and family than news, publishers saw Facebook referrals drop dramatically/ Mother Jones said the algorithm change “vaporized much of what was left of the revenue base for journalism.” When Google adjusted its algorithm in June 2019, one publisher found that its online traffic had decreased by “close to 50%” even as their referrals from other sources grew during the same period. [Mother Jones, March/April 2019]

  • Between 2010-2020, advertiser spending on newspapers plunged by almost 75%, with newspapers seeing a nearly 70% loss of total revenue during that same time. Between 2019-2020 alone, newspaper advertising revenue fell by a median of 42% year over year. Publishers attributed this decline to Google and Facebook’s dominance of online advertising. Even when Buzzfeed saw a 400% increase in monthly visitors, it still couldn’t generate enough revenue to stave off layoffs. [Save Journalism, Testimony For Senate Judiciary Committee, 5/21/19]

  • The share of revenue local news got from online advertising increased 30% since 2004 – from 2.6% in 2004 to 35.4% in 2020. However, publishers kept only 49% to 67% of indirect programmatic advertising spending, with the rest of the revenue going to ad tech intermediaries like Google and Facebook. The revenue newspapers received from online advertising was insufficient to compensate for the decline in print advertising. Between 2007-2017, newspaper industry ad revenue shrank in dollars from $45 billion to $16 billion a year, while ad revenue for Google increased sixfold, from nearly $9 billion to $52 billion. Apple news took 15%-30% of news subscription purchases made through their app. [CBS News, 6/11/19] [TechCrunch, 8/26/21]

Big Tech has universally been seen as the driver of local news’ demise.

  • Over 75% of Americans were concerned about the impact Big Tech had on small and local news. 

    • 76% of Americans believed Big Tech was driving local news outlets out of business. 

    • 79% of Americans said they were concerned that Big Tech had too much power over the news and publishing industries. 

    • Three in four Americans believed Big Tech’s monopoly over the news and publishing industries was a threat to the free press and unfair to publishers, especially to small and local outlets. [News Media Alliance, 4/28/22]

  • Over 250,000 jobs have been lost in the news industry since 2004. Between 2004-2020, the total number of employees at newspapers declined from around 397,000 to 120,000. [Congressional Research Service, 1/27/22]

  • From 2019-2021, 300 publications have closed, with more than 6,000 journalists fired. [Ethics & Public Policy Center, 12/15/21]

  • In 2018, U.S. News circulation reached its lowest level since 1940 – leaving nearly half of U.S. counties with only a single newspaper. [Education Week, 1/7/20] [Ethics & Public Policy Center, 12/15/21]

  • In October 2020, it was reported that 25 newspaper publishing groups controlled nearly two-thirds of all daily newspapers in the U.S. [News Media Alliance, Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened, 10/27/20]

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