Dec 7, 2021 - Business

Georgia newspapers take Google, Facebook to court

Illustration of the Facebook like icon holding cash.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Georgia newspaper companies and their counterparts around the country have been filing antitrust civil action lawsuits against Google and Facebook for the past year, alleging the two firms have monopolized the digital advertising market, constricting revenue that would otherwise go to local news.

Why it matters: What started as a small-town effort to take a stand against Big Tech has turned into a national movement, with over 200 newspapers involved across dozens of states, Axios' Sara Fischer and Kristal Dixon report.

By the numbers: To date, the group has been retained by over 30 newspaper ownership groups on behalf of over 200 publications to file lawsuits.

  • Of those, antitrust complaints have officially been filed by 17 different ownership groups representing more roughly 150 newspapers.

Last month, Cobb County-based Times Journal Inc. filed a lawsuit against the tech giants in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, which was first reported by the Cobb County Courier.

Times Journal owns the Marietta Daily Journal, the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News and the Morgan County Citizen.

  • Otis Brumby III, publisher of Times Journal, declined to comment to Axios on the lawsuit.

Other Georgia newspaper ownership groups that have either filed complaints or retained legal services for future lawsuits include Rome News Media LLC, Neighbor Newspapers Inc., Cartersville Newspapers Inc., Southern Community Newspapers Inc., The Newnan Times Herald and AIR Publications Inc.

The goal of the litigation is "to recover past damages to newspapers" caused by Big Tech companies, Clayton Fitzsimmons, one of the lawyers representing the newspapers, told Axios.

Context: The lawsuits were filed after the House Judiciary Committee published its major digital competition report, which included a section on newspapers. That report served as a guiding post for many of these lawsuits.

  • The lawsuits were consolidated in New York because of a similar lawsuit that was filed by Associated Newspapers, parent company of The Daily Mail, against Google in New York in April.

What they're saying: Burton Speakman, associate professor of communications at Kennesaw State University’s Journalism and Emerging Media program, told Axios that Google and Facebook have been able to profit off local media companies for years by running their content without compensating those outlets.

  • “It’s really shocking” how these two big tech companies have changed the industry, says Speakman, who spent 13 years as a reporter and editor at small publications in Kentucky, Ohio and Texas.
  • Newspapers like Marietta Daily Journal aren’t set up to compete against the algorithms created by Facebook and Google that favor larger media outlets, Speakman told Axios.
  • “The whole system is really designed to feed Facebook and Google and secondarily the bigger (media) companies,” he says.

Speakman says smaller media outlets like the Cherokee Tribune may have a greater advantage over regional outlets like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution because they have a monopoly on areas they cover.

The bottom line: The KSU professor told Axios he is optimistic that someone in the news industry will figure out how to improve its profit margins since the old days of people shelling out dollars for print advertising are long gone.

  • “They’re going to figure out how to monetize it and make it work for the profit margins that are more common for a daily product (nowadays),” he says.

Axios reporters Sara Fischer and Thomas Wheatley contributed to this article.

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