The Health Of Journalism: California Hearing Explores The State Of News

California legislators are seeking a path forward for The California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA, AB 886), a bill that would force big tech platforms like Meta and Google to pay news publishers a “journalism usage fee” to use their content.

“We’ve had moderate success, and also some scars that I really didn’t expect,” largely from players who want to “protect their own narrow and selfish interests,” said California State Senator Tom Umberg (D) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the UCLA Law School on Tuesday. 



The purpose of the hearing was to inform legislators about the state of journalism. What they heard was that the decline of the news ecosystem poses a threat to democracy. 

For instance, Senator Benjamin Allen (D) noted that many people are no longer paying for journalism. 

“Paywalls apparently have done nothing but make it so that a smaller sliver of the population is actually getting credible news access,” Allen said. “And everybody else is getting their news increasingly from Tik Tok, from algorithms that push people down rabbit holes and end up confirming bias as opposed to challenging bias, which is what the free press was supposed to be all about.”

Michael Nicholas, executive director of the Institute of Technology Law and Policy, offered three premises that he said should be relatively uncontroversial.

“The first is that News media is in crisis. This has been extensively documented,” Nicholas said. “A recent report by Poynter Institute found 130 newspapers closed over the course 2023 and that since 2005, the U.S. has lost nearly 2,009 newspapers and 43,000 journalists’ jobs. While some of this can be replaced through new digital sites or other starups , these tend to be clustered in weatheir and urban area, leading to a rapid expansion fo news deserts across the country.” 

Nicholas continued, “My second premise is that a crisis for news media is a crisis for democracy, which depends on an informed and engaged electorate.” 

He added, “The increasing dominance of online platforms over our public sphere is a global phenomenon which has led to an uneasy relationship between news organizations and large tech companies.”

Moreover, this state of affairs has “forced journalists to contend with shifting algorithmic priorities.” It has also added to a crisis in funding of quality journalism, particularly at the local level. 

Misinformation and extremism are on the rise. And in this climate, trusted news organizations are “vital for establishing a collective narrative, and as we’ve seen, a shared understanding of reality,” Nicholas argued. 

Nicholas’ third premise was that “the current crisis facing the news is driven at least in part by the increasing dominance of online intermediaries in both digital advertising marketing and the broader attention economy.” 

The California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) was introduced in March by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D) and has been held over for the next session. 

“We applaud Assemblymember Wicks and Senator Umberg for their commitment to sustaining journalism and their dedication to the California Journalism & Preservation Act (CJPA),” says Danielle Coffey, president and CEO of the News/Media Alliance.

Coffey adds, “By holding this informational hearing and having an open dialogue, they are showing their ardent commitment to preserving quality local journalism that supports a healthy democracy and providing their constituents with important information about their communities. Without meaningful action, news outlets will continue to disappear.”


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