Journalism, like the arts, has seen its business models upended. According to the Pew Research Center, advertising revenue in newspapers “fell from $37.8 billion in 2008 to $14.3 billion in 2018, a 62% decline. Newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers dropped by nearly half (47%) between 2008 and 2018, from about 71,000 workers to 38,000.”
One could find equally dire equivalents in the arts, where artist income has shrunk and jobs have been lost, accelerated by the pandemic. William Deresiewicz‘s book Death of the Artist is replete with examples documenting this. Big Tech, while getting fabulously rich, has disrupted industry after industry, in the process promising a better new world. And in many ways it has delivered. But the dystopian impacts of that “progress” have also become more obvious, and after years of watching, the US Congress finally seems to be in a mood to modify the regulations these companies have been operating under. It’s about time. Those rules were largely written before the internet was around.
While the impact of Big Tech on the arts has been profound, there has not been a lot of organizing to change the rules under which Big Tech operates. That was true also for journalism until recently. But after the rise of social media disinformation and the closing of more than 2000 daily and weekly newspapers across the country over the past ten years, members of Congress from both parties seem ready to enact reforms, from breaking up monopolies to rewriting how information is shared.
One of the most popular measures would force Google and social media platforms to start paying news organizations for linking to their stories. Given the $147 billion in advertising Google earns annually, the money is a tempting target. But it’s exactly the wrong way to try to cure tech’s negative impacts, and it would actually do little to solve journalism’s revenue issues.
You might think this is just a journalism issue, and admittedly it’s not an exact comparison, but one can draw some parallels between paying to read stories an paying for music streaming, which has not proven to “pay off” very well for the vast majority of musicians. I’ve written an explainer on the issue and the complexity and contradictions of trying to get paid for content over at Post Alley.