When National Public Radio media critic David Folkenflik visited Baton Rouge last month to address local NPR listeners, he devoted much of his speech to the value of local newspapers.

A lot of the national news content Americans consume each day began as a local story covered by a local journalist, Folkenflik told listeners. It’s why the health of local newspapers should be a national priority, not just a narrow issue for a single community.

Given that reality, we applaud the news that The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is gaining traction in Congress. It’s aimed at leveling the playing field so local papers can continue to pay for the reporting that keeps government bodies accountable and voters informed.

Right now, online giants like Facebook and Google benefit greatly from the content generated by local newspapers, although the advertising revenue that supports that coverage isn’t fairly shared.

Most of that digital revenue goes to Facebook and Google, meaning that local media companies aren’t adequately compensated for the coverage they provide.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would allow local media companies to join hands in crafting a better bargain with the online giants on sharing this ad revenue. Local media outlets would have 48 months to do this without fear of violating antitrust laws. That kind of collaboration is needed to better enable community journalists to negotiate with global media titans.

The legislation enjoys bipartisan backing, including the support of Louisiana’s U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican. “Google and Facebook now control the news kingdom. They’ve pitted themselves against newspapers in a David-and-Goliath battle in which newspapers don’t have a stone to throw, much less a slingshot to put it in,” Kennedy said. “The readers are the true losers as newsrooms empty out across this country. We can’t allow them to bully newspapers out of business.”

“I agree with what Senator Kennedy is trying to do,” said Louisiana’s other U.S. senator, Bill Cassidy. “Companies making lots of money off other peoples’ information should share with those providing the information.” A Cassidy spokesman said the senator supports the goals of the bill, but that he probably hasn’t had time to review its specifics.

We applaud Kennedy for pushing a Senate version of the bill, and we hope other lawmakers join him. Robust local news coverage helps keep communities strong — and keeps America strong, too.

— The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

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