Black News Publishers Watchful of Legislative Process as Online News Payment Bill Advances

Black news publishers in California are watching lawmakers closely, anticipating that they will include provisions in a pro-journalism bill that would benefit their businesses.

Edward Henderson | California Black Media

Black news publishers in California are watching lawmakers closely, anticipating that they will include provisions in a pro-journalism bill that would benefit their businesses.

On June 2, the California Assembly passed  Assembly Bill (AB) 886 with a vote of 46-6.

The bill would mandate that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google to pay a “journalism usage fee” to news organizations for sharing their content.

Assemblymember Buffy Hicks (D-Oakland) said she authored the bill with the goal of supporting California’s local news media outlets including ethnic media and small news publishers throughout the state. 

Free press is in our constitution, and it is at risk right now. That is what this bill is about,” Wicks told the Assembly. “Publishers deserve to be paid a journalism usage fee relative to how much their content is used on these platforms.”

According to the text of the bill, newspaper advertising has decreased by 66% over the past 10 years, and newsroom staff have declined 44%.

“Given the important role of ethnic media, it is critical to advance state policy that ensures their publishers are justly compensated for the content they create and distribute,” the bill’s language asserts. 

AB 886, also known as the California Journalism Preservation Act, would require outlets receiving funds to use 70% of it on journalists and support staff. The bill was co-sponsored by the California News Publishers Association (CNPA), and the California Labor Federation (CLF). 

 “When local newspapers shutter, civic engagement goes down, corruption goes up, and the ability to combat disinformation erodes further,” CNPA wrote in a statement of support for the bill.

“Like all workers, journalists’ labor produces value. News workers win their fair share of it through collective bargaining with employers, as protected by the National Labor Relations Act. But, if that value is unfairly captured by third-party tech websites instead of the news publishers that employ journalists, these workers cannot bargain for pay that reflects their actual economic productivity. Meanwhile, newsroom jobs keep disappearing,” wrote CFL’s Mitch Steiger in a press release.

AB 886 also references a document written by the African American journalist and abolitionist Samuel Cornish in 1827. It highlighted the need for African Americans to have their own platform to express their grievances, advocate for their rights, and challenge racial inequality. 

“We Wish to Plead Our Own Cause,” Cornish wrote and Wicks references in the bill language. 

The bill language goes on to state, “This call to action spurred the establishment of numerous Black-owned newspapers and publications, solidifying the role of the Black press as a powerful tool for empowerment and social change, and laid the groundwork in our country for other ethnic media to plead their own cause.”

The Bill has faced opposition from multiple organizations such as the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the California Chamber of Commerce, CalMatters and Facebook’s parent company Meta. 

According to Meta, news accounts for less than 3% of the content appearing on most Facebook users’ feeds. They also state that the media’s struggles were not in direct correlation with the growth of social media platforms. 

“If the Journalism Preservation Act passes, we will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies under the guise of aiding California publishers,” Meta said in a statement.

An analysis conducted by the tech industry-funded group Chamber of Progress shows that the biggest beneficiaries of the proposed law would be news outlets such as Fox News, the New York Post and Newsmax, all of which have faced accusations of spreading misinformation in the past. 

According to the study, these outlets would receive four times more in revenue than major California news organizations, 151 times more than Latino news outlets in the state, 643 times more than newspapers located in the state’s worst news deserts and 844 times as much as California Black news outlets.

The bill will now be considered by the state Senate.