Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Illinois Journalism Preservation Act calls for Big Tech to compensate local news outlets

Daily file photo by Shun Graves
An Illinois Senate bill proposes that Big Tech pay local newsrooms for content used on their platforms. In response, Big Tech is lobbying hard.

As private equity guts newsrooms, layoffs abound and misinformation runs rampant across social media, an Illinois bill aims to offer a targeted solution to the decades-old journalism business model.

Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) introduced SB 3591, or the Journalism Preservation Act, in February. It would require Big Tech companies to track and compensate news organizations for the content they share, display or link to on social media platforms. 

“Local newsrooms should be compensated for their content,” Stadelman told The Daily. “If Big Tech benefits from it on their platforms, there should be some type of reimbursement, a revenue stream for that content.”

Illinois has lost over 86% of its journalists and more than a third of its newspapers since 2005, according to the Local Journalism Task Force.

Medill Senior Associate Dean Tim Franklin, director of the Medill Local News Initiative and member of the task force, said the underlying problem is a fundamental shift in the business model.  Ad revenue previously directed toward newsrooms is now being collected by Big Tech companies like Meta and Google, he said.

News publications now rely on Meta and Google for 70% of their traffic, according to task force member and President of News/Media Alliance Danielle Coffey.

Stadelman’s bill would create a structure and arbitration process for local newsrooms and publishers to negotiate with Big Tech companies and create a revenue-sharing agreement for their content.

One discussed adjustment to the bill is paying the funds out directly to journalists, said Coffey, who recently testified in front of the Senate Executive Committee. Stadelman called the specifics of the bill on the distribution model “very fluid” and said he plans to introduce more changes soon.

Since its February introduction, the bill had its first reading on the Senate floor and was assigned to the Executive Committee. A committee vote on the bill will be on April 19.

The bill is being modeled after laws adopted in Australia and Canada, and Stadelman’s team is also monitoring a similar act progress through the California legislature. 

“I do think that deliberation is important, so I respect the fact that they’re taking their time,” Coffey said. “At the same time, two newsrooms are closing every week (nationally) and journalists are getting laid off by the thousands.” 

Coffey said the government is the only recourse for dealing with Big Tech companies, but the sheer size of these tech giants makes it especially difficult to spur significant change. 

Meta and Google have employed several tactics to oppose regulatory measures in other countries, campaigning on their platforms and commissioning misleading polls, according to Dr. Courtney Radsch, director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute.

Radsch testified before the Canadian Parliament that Google and Meta have blocked access to news on their platforms during the legislative processes in Australia and Canada, claiming technical issues that were later found to be “negotiation tactics,” according to whistleblowers.

In March, Meta Spokesperson Jamie Radice told The Verge that news isn’t the top reason people visit Facebook and Instagram. 

If the Journalism Preservation Act were to pass, Radice said Meta would “end the availability of news in Illinois.”

Radice could not be immediately reached for comment. 

“Because we’re dealing with very well-resourced adversaries in this space, there’s a lot of … crazy distracting rhetoric and scare tactics,” Coffey said. 

While Google initially threatened to do the same in Canada, the company eventually came to an agreement with the government to pay a lump sum of 100 million Canadian dollars annually to keep links to news articles in its search results, amounting to almost CA$21,000 per journalist.

“If you’re a lawmaker, I think you’d rather support your local newspaper than supporting Big Tech,” Stadelman said. “This bill will help their local community, will help their local publishers, so I guess that’s how you try to counteract a strong lobbying effort like this.” 

Stadelman, a former reporter turned legislator, introduced and successfully passed a bill to create the Illinois Local Journalism Task Force in 2021. He served as the chair of the task force, which comprised journalism leaders across the nation including Franklin and Coffey.

Franklin said Stadelman and his team drafted two bills based on the policy recommendations in the task force’s final report – the Journalism Preservation Act and the Strengthening Community Media Act.

The latter was assigned to the Executive Committee in February. It contains a broad array of incentives, tax breaks and scholarships intended to repopulate local newsrooms, including a grant program that aims to support the hiring and retention of journalists, particularly in underserved rural areas. 

“Anything that has a financial ask directly from the state is always a much harder bill to pass,” said state Sen. Rachel Ventura (D-Joliet), who co-sponsored both bills.

Despite these challenges, proponents of the bill said they are cautiously optimistic about the future of securing policy protections for newsrooms. 

“I understand what I’m up against here,” Stadelman said.

Email: [email protected] 

X: @janyasundar 

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