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Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The News Media Alliance (NMA), a newspaper trade group that represents over 2,000 newspapers in the U.S., is asking Congress for an antitrust safe harbor against Google and Facebook. David Chavern, the CEO and President of the Alliance, tells Axios:

Ultimately, we need a better deal from a distorted system.

At issue: The group — with support from members like The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal — argues that existing media competition laws prevent news organizations from working together to negotiate better deals with major internet platforms, unintentionally enabling Google and Facebook to continue to control the digital advertising ecosystem and information economy.

Why it matters: With the support of every major print publication, this is the first big step media industry leaders are taking to rally government action against the Google-Facebook duopoly. In Europe, the duopoly's dominance has been fiercely challenged by antitrust regulators, but in the U.S. regulators have largely ignored the issue, allowing Google and Facebook to grow to a point where they control over 60% of the U.S. digital ad market and over 50% of the global digital ad market. Meanwhile, media companies' ad revenues continue to decline.

The strategy: Chavern has written an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal outlining his position, but says NMA is not calling out any specific lawmakers or committees at this time. "We are just starting to work the Hill," NMA Chairman Michael J. Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of the Minneapolis Star Tribune Media, tells Axios. Klingensmith adds that there's an attachment to local news organizations that lawmakers will want to see sustained, which is an encouraging sign.

By the numbers: There's unquestionable evidence that the duopoly's dominance has created a media economy that is unsustainable for news publishers.

  • 60% of total U.S. digital ad revenue will go to Google and Facebook this year, per eMarketer estimates — roughly $73 billion.
  • Nearly 80% of all digital search ad revenue in the U.S. will go to Google this year and nearly 40% of all digital display ad revenue in the U.S. will go to Facebook, per eMarketer.
  • 83% of every new digital ad dollar will go to the duopoly this year, according to calculations from Digital Content Next, the premium publishers association.

By comparison, the print industry brings in roughly $18 billion in advertising revenue (both print and digital), nearly a third of what it was just 10 years ago, according to Pew. That's roughly the same as all of Facebook's U.S. digital ad revenue and less than half of Google's.

The impact on news: The group also argues that the Facebook and Google's dominance has created an unhealthy media economy and news environment, where the duopoly benefits from investments made by news companies, and consumers are less likely to connect with news brands. To combat this, they're looking for Google and Facebook to make four key changes:

  1. Increase advertising revenue sharing: Facebook has made revenue sharing updates to Instant Articles and video over the past few months, but the industry argues it's not enough. "It's a promise that hasn't materialized," Klingensmith says.
  2. Create more support for news subscription models: This includes a way to drive subscriptions through Facebook and amend Google's first-click policy that allows access to content past paywalls. There are rumors that Facebook is adding a publisher subscription feature for mobile.
  3. Improve data sharing: Give newspaper publishers more data about their own readers on both platforms. "When our content is being read on Facebook, that audience is invisible to us," Klingensmith says.
  4. Develop better brand support: They argue that brand is at the core of the news business and Google and Facebook have come between consumers and the brand. A new Pew/Knight Foundation study conducted earlier this year found that 10% of respondents exposed to news articles on Facebook thought the news source was Facebook.

Campbell Brown, Head of News Partnerships at Facebook tells Axios: "We're committed to helping quality journalism thrive on Facebook. We're making progress through our work with news publishers and have more work to do."A spokesperson from Google says: "We want to help news publishers succeed as they transition to digital. In recent years we've built numerous specialized products and technologies, developed specifically to help distribute, fund, and support newspapers. This is a priority and we remain deeply committed to helping publishers with both their challenges, and their opportunities."

Go deeper

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.