AAN Statement on Google and the CJPA

The Association of Alternative Newsmedia is closely following the proposed California Journalism Preservation Act, as well as Google’s April 12 announcement that it would begin restricting news links for a limited number of California users as a “test” for a possible solution should the CJPA, as it is currently written, become law.

AAN’s California members have differing opinions on the current version of the CJPA. Some support it, believing it would bring much-needed revenue to their operations. Others oppose it, believing it would do more harm than good, as suggested by a recent Nieman Lab analysis.

However, there are several points about which the AAN Board of Directors feels strongly:

  • More needs to be done to support smaller, independent news publishers. The CJPA has been pushed by, and would most benefit (as currently written), large newspaper chains like Alden, Gannett and McClatchy, all of which have large footprints in California. We’ve been told that new language for the CJPA is coming that will increase the benefits to smaller publishers—we’re watching.
  • The CJPA needs stronger guardrails assuring that the money actually goes toward journalism. The much-touted 70 percent clause has numerous loopholes that would make it easy for larger newspaper companies to use accounting maneuvers to funnel the money to things other than reporters—and we have no doubt that they’d do that.
  • The best solution is one that is agreed upon by as many involved parties as possible. Google has shown a willingness to compromise and pay more to California news operations than it is now. If Meta and Google were to indeed to eliminate news links in the state, it would be a major blow to small publishers. Ask smaller Canadian publishers whose web traffic was devastated by Meta’s elimination of news from its platforms there.

We’re extremely dismayed at the rhetoric used by the large dailies who are pushing the CJPA. Take, for example, a July 10, 2023, editorial by The Seattle Times—which is owned by McClatchy and a wealthy family—that ripped the Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) for its opposition to the CJPA and similar legislation, claiming that LION was acting against the best interests of its members (which is not true) because it was getting millions from Meta and Google.

Some opponents of big tech claim that the Google News Initiative (GNI) exists primarily to buy off and gain support from the news operations it supports. Even if that’s true, it’s also true that the GNI has done far more to support small, independent, and BIPOC-owned news outlets—and, frankly, the United States’ news ecosystem overall—than Alden, Gannett and McClatchy combined.

Here’s just one quick example: We applaud Gannett for actually having a charitable arm, the Gannett Foundation. According to its 2022 Form 990, the Gannett Foundation paid out $3,324,279 in contributions, gifts and grants that year. That’s great. However, in that same year, Gannett’s CEO, Mike Reed, earned more than that in compensation—$3.38 million.

Meanwhile, the GNI has supported the three associations in the Fund for Equity in Local News—AAN, the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (the association for Black publishers)—and its members with more funding than all of those 2022 Gannett Foundation contributions combined, via our Transformation Tech program alone. GNI has dedicated similar programming and funding to publishers in LION and the Institute for Nonprofit News.

In this election year, the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. All interested parties need to come to the table and make sure more money goes to independent newsrooms. Our journalism strengthens democracy and our local communities through reliable, factual news.

Here are a couple of things for California publishers to consider doing: 

  • Reach out to local members of the Legislature and to the office of Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, the CJPA sponsor, to make sure the needs of independent newsrooms are more strongly represented. 
  • If you have noticed, or notice in the future, a drop in your search referrals, please let AAN board president Jimmy Boegle (jboegle@cvindependent.com) or executive director Todd Stauffer (todd@aan.org) know.