COLUMBUS — Newspapers are fundamental to the functioning of American democracy and they’re under threat like never before, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Friday.
That’s why he’s calling on Ohio’s congressional delegation to support a bill that would grant the industry “temporary cartel” status to negotiate rates with massive social media platforms that now are using newspaper content for free.
“In the marketplace of ideas, big tech is going behind the counter and taking the product off the shelf and walking out the door without paying for it,” Yost said.
He was speaking to the annual luncheon of the Ohio Pharmacists Association. Among those honored at the event were four Dispatch journalists for their investigation into little-known-but-powerful pharmacy benefit managers. Critics accuse of the industry of using secrecy and anti-competitive practices to jack up prices and stifle competition.
Yost, a former newspaper reporter, cited grim statistics confronting newspapers in the internet era as they try to continue such work.
“The Wall Street Journal noted this spring that 1,800 [American] newspapers have closed in the last 15 years,” he said. “An industry that had employed 412,000 in 2001 declined to 166,000 in 2017. That’s 60 percent less sunshine. That’s a cloudy day.”
Yost outlined the myriad ways that newspapers serve as essential watchdogs for local and state governments. Studies have shown that in the absence of such coverage, taxes go up and fraud flourishes, the attorney general said.
Also in newspapers’ absence, people become demonstrably less informed and less likely to vote.
“That should concern us all,” Yost said. “We should recognize that accountable government doesn’t just happen on its own.”
Left unchecked, the trend is likely to get worse, Yost said, because young people get almost all their news from social media platforms such as Facebook. He said such platforms take a free ride by using newspapers’ content without paying for it and then sell advertising that runs next to it.
He encouraged the pharmacists in the audience to return to their communities and explain the importance of newspaper journalism and push to support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.
The proposal is sponsored by U.S. House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Dave Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, and House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins, R-Georgia. It would create a four-year window for newspapers to combine for the purpose of negotiating rates to change the tech giants to use newspaper content.