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Newspapers taking on the big guys

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Apr 25, 2021

Last year in June we had to travel into Wisconsin a little way on a little family business trip, despite the pandemic. In case you wonder, we did follow all protocols and stayed safe.

The trip took us through the town of Hastings, Minnesota, along the Mississippi River. We stopped for gas, snacks and some water and I looked for a copy of the Hastings Star Gazette newspaper to buy. I nearly always look for a copy of the local newspaper to purchase in every town we stop in whenever we travel through. I like to read it and see what kind of stories they are covering, how they do layout, etc.

And I was eager to pick up a copy of the Hastings newspaper because I really wanted to see how it looked now. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Star Gazette was an innovative, creative and excellent newspaper, and was winning many, many awards. Some said it was the premier weekly newspaper in Minnesota.

However, I could only find a copy of a small, little newspaper which was only a couple of pages long and had not much for local news inside.

I asked the clerk if they had a copy of the Star Gazette, and they did not know anything about another newspaper in the town.

I found out later that the Star Gazette had ceased to exist. I was shocked. If a great newspaper like the Hastings Star Gazette, in a prosperous town like Hastings could go out of business, things are not looking good for the newspaper industry.

There were lots of factors in its demise, I learned. Nevertheless, it was stunning news.

Now, even Senator Amy Klobuchar is commenting on the death of the Star Gazette in a column about newspapers. Klobuchar has a special place in her heart for newspapers, since her father was a well-known reporter/columnist.

It is great to see she is trying to do her best to help newspapers survive in this age when Google and Facebook share our hard work on their platforms, make big bucks selling advertising connected to our stories with no compensation to the news media which created those stories to start with.

In fact, Publishers of 125 newspapers in 11 states filed or announced lawsuits against Google and Facebook on Monday claiming the tech giants have unlawfully monopolized the digital advertising market and engaged in an illegal secretive deal, nicknamed “Jedi Blue,” to thwart competition.

Here is what Sen. Klobuchar wrote concerning her plans to help newspapers get a fair shake when these mega companies use our property to enrich themselves without even a thank you.

Fighting for our local newspapers

by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar Minnesota (D)

On May 7 of last year, the Hastings Star Gazette printed its last issue. The paper’s first issue as The Hastings Independent was published in 1857, a year before Minnesota gained statehood. Generations relied on papers like this for local news – they told you who was born and who died, whose daughter just broke the county record for the 400-meter freestyle, whose Holstein won a surprise ribbon at the State Fair, and how your local leaders voted.

My dad was a Minnesota newspaper columnist and sports reporter. Even though he worked his way up the ranks to interview everyone from Mike Ditka to Ronald Reagan to Ginger Rogers, he was always, as his managing editor put it, “a champion of those on the outside.”

But today, newspapers of all sizes are struggling and closing.

The shuttering of the Star Gazette was helped along by the coronavirus pandemic, but long-term trends in newspaper ad revenue show that the Star Gazette and many local papers like it were already on their last legs when COVID-19 struck.

Ad revenue for U.S. newspapers plummeted from $37.8 billion in 2008 to $14.3 billion in 2018. During that time, two other companies, Facebook and Google–worth over $2.2 trillion combined – became advertising titans.

These two companies don’t just control the majority of online advertising; they’ve built power over the news, crushing local outlets along the way. It saddens me to think my dad might not have a job in today’s tech-dominated world, let alone a chance to interview a U.S. President.

In rural and small-town communities across America, we are seeing the impacts of this consolidation first hand – expanding “news deserts” where local coverage is increasingly difficult to come by.

We can’t stand by and watch this happen to our independent press. That’s why I have introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) and Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ken Buck (R-CO) to let news publishers join together to get fair terms with these digital titans. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will level the playing field for the entire industry – not just a few publishers – by empowering local media outlets to make deals that ensure fair treatment.

By giving independent papers the chance to compete, our bill will also give them the power to demand deserved revenue so that they can invest in quality reporting – ensuring that hardworking reporters can continue to inform their communities.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is a way we can turn the tide on this unprecedented threat to fair and honest competition. It will help America maintain access to the trustworthy local reporting that is the bedrock of our communities.