Google will reduce some user access to California news sites

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Google said Friday it would remove links to California news sites from its search results for some of its users, as it pushes back against a pending bill that would require the Silicon Valley technology company to pay publishers.

The online search giant said the bill, called the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), would upend its business model. The bill, if signed into law, would require companies including Google to fork over a “journalism usage fee” when they sell ads next to news content.

“We have long said that this is the wrong approach to supporting journalism,” Jaffer Zaidi, vice president of Google’s Global News Partnerships, wrote in a blog post Friday. “If passed, CJPA may result in significant changes to the services we can offer Californians and the traffic we can provide to California publishers.”

Google also said it is “pausing further investments in the California news ecosystem.”

Many news outlets rely on sites such as Google and Facebook to distribute their news, but they are at the whim of the companies’ algorithms.

“Google removing news is undemocratic and antithetical to open access to information,” Danielle Coffey, president and CEO of News/Media Alliance, said regarding Google’s actions Friday. “Its power move with the government is a symptom of a larger problem: the dominance and market power of a single company. The need for the California Journalism Preservation Act could not be more clear.”

News outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, have laid off staff in part because of revenue shortfalls blamed on the decline of print journalism and weak advertising dollars.

National news organizations such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal also have laid off staff, as have primarily digital operations including BuzzFeed, Business Insider and Vice.

Local online outlet L.A. Taco, which recently put most of its staff on furlough, said one of the factors leading to its struggles include “Google’s A.I. that pulls information for its self-generated responses from news organizations without linking back.” It also cited changing audience habits as people gravitate toward watching influencer-style videos instead of reading articles.

“These two factors essentially destroyed journalism’s business model overnight,” wrote Javier Cabral, L.A. Taco’s editor.

The California Journalism Preservation Act is supported by the California News Publishers Assn. and the News/Media Alliance, of which The Times is a member.

Brittney Barsotti, general counsel at the California News Publishers Assn., said the action by Google shows why the legislation is “absolutely necessary.”

“It’s disgraceful they are blocking news to the public that needs it and punishing local publishers out of fear of legislation,” Barsotti said.

Supporters of the California bill said it would help level the playing field for journalism outlets that have been struggling with gaining enough digital subscriptions to survive.

The bill would require eligible news outlets to spend at least 70% of the money received on their staff. Smaller newsrooms could spend a smaller percentage.

“Just to understand the difference in market dynamics, just consider that Google earns enough advertising revenue to pay for the [annual] cost of our newsroom in less than three hours,” Chris Argentieri, president and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Times, said at a hearing last year discussing the bill. “Google’s revenue for a month or two would cover the cost of all working journalists in California.

“Large digital platforms like Google and Meta use our content to generate billions of dollars in revenue and do not compensate us for it,” Argentieri said. “The size of the companies makes it impossible for us or anyone in our industry, for that matter, to have a seat at the table to resolve this issue through normal business channels.”

Outside the U.S., the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said it benefited from a law that requires digital platforms to negotiate on compensation to news providers. The network said it added more than 50 journalists in regional Australia.

Critics of the bill, including Google, say that it would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds and put smaller outlets at a disadvantage.

The Mountain View, Calif., company said it has partnered with more than 7,000 global news publishers through its Google News Initiative, including 6,000 journalists in California, but Zaidi said the company was pausing expansion of that initiative “until there’s clarity on California’s regulatory environment.”

The initiative has helped provide grants and training to journalists on digital tools. Just 2% of queries on Google search are news-related, Zaidi wrote.

“By helping people find news stories, we help publishers of all sizes grow their audiences at no cost to them,” Zaidi wrote. “CJPA would upend that model.”

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