Editorial: Journalism needs to be saved before it’s too late

A bill proposed in California last summer could have saved the jobs of 115 journalists at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, yet, it continues to sit lifeless on the Assembly floor.
Editorial: Journalism needs to be saved before it’s too late

Journalism is a job field on fire for a multitude of reasons. “On fire” in the sense that we live in a society where we need news immediately and that news travels in seconds. That would make one believe high level journalists are needed at an all-time high. However, journalism is also on fire in the sense that journalist’s jobs are burning up to a crisp, you can ask the LA Times.

On Jan. 23, 2024, the LA Times laid off 115 employees, which comes out to more than a fifth of their newsroom, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. In a world where every “Joe Schmo” is competing to be first to the story (even without necessarily being accurate), the LA Times have had to shoot themselves in the foot by limiting how many boots can be on the ground.

Assembly Member Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) has had a bill that could solve this problem. Bill AB 886, which is being called the California Journalism Preservation Act, has been on the ledger for over a year.

This bill in layman’s terms will require digital advertising companies to pay news outlets a “journalism usage fee” before posting content from news outlets onto the tech companies’ social media platforms. This bill could generate a healthy amount of money to journalism organizations that are dying out a slow and painful death in recent years.

The bill passed in the Assembly with 55 votes in June 2023, but stalled out in the Senate Judiciary Committee later in the summer. Wicks and State Senator Tom Umberg (D-Orange) decided to punt the bill to 2024 , making this a two-year bill to buy more time to make the bill stronger. So what is holding up Bill AB 886 from going through? Was it not strong enough as it was written?

One factor is the bill is being intensely opposed by various tech industry trade groups and Facebook parent company Meta. They have gone as far as to threaten to remove all news content from Facebook and Instagram if this bill passes.

According to the LA Times, Meta has previously followed through on this threat when a similar bill was passed in Australia in February 2021 that required Google and Meta to pay journalism outlets for their content. Facebook briefly blocked publishers and users from sharing news links on its platform, but restored news content days later after the Australian government agreed to make some changes to the News Media Bargaining Code.

Meta also announced on June 22, 2023 that it would be pulling access to news on Facebook and Instagram in Canada after the country passed Bill C-18, known as the Online News Act. Like AB 886 in California, it requires digital platforms to pay publications for their content. Leading up to the bill’s passing, Meta and Google had already begun testing the blocking of access to news links for a small percentage of Canadian users.

So clearly, part of the blame can be thrown at the tech companies who make plenty of money to pay a fee for news content they themselves did not even create. However, we’d like to point the blame equally on our representatives, who continue to fail the people they serve time after time, no matter the situation. You are just as guilty for costing LA Times journalists their jobs.

A bill that could have been fought for in July was pushed back a year. While our state senators and assembly people enjoyed their vacations and ribbon cuttings, people who are the backbone of the 1st Amendment are now unemployed.

As an editorial board that has voted our representatives into power to SERVE us, here is what we ask, what WE the people want. Get back to Sacramento, and push Bill AB 886 through, sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more risk is run that someone else is next. The San Francisco Chronicle? The San Diego Union-Tribune? The Fresno Bee? It could be anyone as these news groups struggle to stay afloat.

How important are journalists you ask? Journalists are the watchdogs of society. Journalists keep those in power in check. Journalists bring you the inside scoop on stories you would never have known. Without journalists, you would be in doubt on how true or how reliable every ounce of information you obtain is.

As college journalists, all four of us are award winning. We know we are the future of this industry. We plan to bring the fire to reporting and working in this field. If you cannot get the job done in Sacramento, we can vote someone in that can. And we promise you, our writing will be the fire that never burns out.

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