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Local journalism is facing financial pressure and our industry needs to adapt to the preferences of our readers. But CJPA, while well-intentioned, will not provide a long-term, sustainable solution. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., President and CEO, National Newspaper Publishers Association
Published: 24 April 2024

California state legislators are pushing legislation that would enrich huge legacy media corporations at the expense of independent, minority-owned newspapers who serve their individual communities. The bill, known as the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), claims to rescue local journalism when in reality it would make it harder for community newspapers to do what they do best – keep citizens engaged and informed with the news that matters to them.

As the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents 30 California publications that engage the interests of the more than 2,237,000 Black Americans in the state, I agree there’s more work to do to shore up the local news organizations and support community journalists. It’s no secret that these businesses face many challenges, especially as the way readers are consuming news is evolving, and we need an all-in effort to secure a more sustainable future for news.

Where CJPA falls short is its provision requiring online platforms to pay news publishers for linking to or hosting news content. This mandate creates numerous unintended consequences that would stifle the ability of minority-owned publications to deliver news and information to people, build online communities, and generate local advertising revenue.

First and foremost, this violates the principles of the open web. Many Black Californians rely on the internet for access to essential news and information – it sparks their creativity, fosters connection, and introduces them to diverse perspectives. And when it comes to notifying our communities of news, information, and dangers related to public health, natural disasters, crime in their area, or scams, time is of the essence. CJPA would limit Californians’ access to relevant news and information.

Meta has already said they’d remove news in California if the bill passes, and recently, Google announced that it is testing the removal of news links for some users in the state to prepare should CJPA go into effect. The value that the Black newspapers bring to their community cannot be replaced by technology platforms, but platforms play a significant role in helping to connect people with important community outlets that cover local events, support community news publishers, and increase readership. All of this translates into increased revenue for Black publishers through ad clicks, paid subscriptions, and donations. Rearranging the financing of news online would place this all at risk and fly in the face of the purported goals of this bill.

What’s more, there is no guarantee that the fees derived from the bill will land where they are needed most: in the hands of local journalists that produce news content in California. Unfortunately, the majority of the funds would go to large publishers and investment firms from outside the state, with already deep pockets.

Over the years, our newspapers have greatly benefited from collaboration with technology companies. For example, through the Google News Initiative, publications have received funding and training that have helped us adapt our business models and pursue innovative strategies to reach additional members of our community. CJPA would likely put an end to those impactful programs.

Local journalism is facing financial pressure and our industry needs to adapt to the preferences of our readers. But CJPA, while well-intentioned, will not provide a long-term, sustainable solution. I urge California lawmakers to hold discussions between the platforms, news publishers, and the state to explore a different solution to these problems. It’s critical that we find an alternative proposal to ensure support goes to the minority-owned news organizations that serve vulnerable communities in the state of California.

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