If you are reading this editorial in our traditional print product — old-fashioned ink on paper — thank you, although you’re not the primary intended audience for this commentary.
But if you clicked, typed or swiped an electronic device to arrive at these words on a screen, please give us your full attention. Otherwise, the next time you go looking for content like this, you may not be able to find it.
It’s not that The Dispatch plans to do anything differently in how we deliver the news, features, sports and editorial opinion to you. Our seven-days-a-week, nearly 24-hour staff of writers, editors and web producers will continue to gather, fact-check, report and post content to our website and platforms like Facebook and Twitter and to make our original content discoverable through search engines like Google.
However, there is another force at work that threatens to come between us.
What makes today’s always-on digital communication work so well is both a blessing and a curse. Platforms like Facebook and Google provide the means for our content to be discovered by local readers who need to know what is happening in their communities as well as by those across the globe who may never visit Columbus.
But that kind of power also enables the means to filter out or prevent would-be readers from finding Dispatch content online.
As digital audiences for news publications in the past decade have grown by more than 200 percent, revenue for content publishers has dropped. That’s because as original-content producers increasingly look to digital platforms to distribute the news, those platforms have changed their algorithms in ways that diminish the ability of some content to be discovered at all.
Fortunately, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, also known as HR 5190, was introduced in Congress earlier this year by a Rhode Island Democrat, Rep. David Cicilline, to give newspapers large and small the ability to band together to negotiate fair treatment with content distributors including Facebook and Google.
Without the 48-month temporary safe harbor that would be established by this legislation, federal antitrust laws would prohibit newspaper publishers from joining forces to seek fair terms for digital distribution of their original content. Only by being able to negotiate collectively how and whether to provide news online can we continue to deliver it in whatever format you desire.
As noted in the legislation, “An entity with the power to dictate the terms of distribution of news has the power to dictate the content of the news.” It goes on to emphasize the importance of preserving America’s free flow of goods and services “but also a free marketplace of ideas.”
Antitrust laws are intended to protect and promote free markets, but sometimes they can work at cross purposes, so safe harbors are created to resolve the conflict.
That is what must occur in this instance.
We call upon central Ohio Reps. Steve Stivers, Joyce Beatty and Troy Balderson to join other members of Congress in supporting the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. We urge readers to also ask their representatives to work for its passage.
National Newspaper Week begins Sunday, and the theme is “Journalism matters now more than ever.” If you agree, help us continue to deliver news to you on your terms.