More than 200 Local Newspaper Publishers Are Suing Google and Facebook for Damages

A group of 30 companies that own more than 200 local newspapers have formed a coalition against Google and Facebook in a newly consolidated antitrust lawsuit, alleging the tech giants have manipulated the digital ad market to the detriment of local news.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail, a small West Virginia newspaper, was the first to file suit in January 2021. Doug Reynolds, managing partner at the holding company that owns several West Virginia newspapers, gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal, comparing Google and Facebook to last century’s robber barons.

“These companies are more powerful than Standard Oil in its heyday, so no one wants to be the first to take them on,” Reynolds said. “We felt the political and legal climate have moved in our favor and are ready to go ahead.”

In May, the News Media Alliance successfully filed a declaration to consolidate the newspapers’ cases and they were consolidated by a judicial panel shortly after that in the Southern District of New York.

Clayton Fitzsimmons, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told Axios their objective is “to recover past damages to newspapers” and
to “establish a new system going forward in which newspapers aren’t just competitive again, but can thrive.”

The newspapers’ collective suit echoes many of the same allegations of the antitrust suit filed against Google by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other state attorneys general. They make a strong case for the myriad of ways that Google and Facebook have had a damaging impact on the publishing industry.

The recently unredacted complaint references internal Google documents which show that AMP pages brought 40% less revenue to publishers. The documents show that Google acknowledged that its fees are very high but the company can demand them because of its market power. One Google employee explained that “smaller publishers don’t have alternative revenue sources,” when commenting on the lack competing ad networks. The suit also alleges that Facebook and Google colluded to manipulate header bidding auctions, among many other anticompetitive practices.

Many of the small newspapers among the 200+ included in the consolidated antitrust lawsuit are using WordPress, such as the Brown County Democrat, The Delaware Gazette, Wisconsin Rapids City Times, Waupaca County News, and the Fairborn Daily Herald — to name just a few. They are doing important work, keeping their elected officials accountable and their communities informed.

As the slow death of the American newspaper forced more publications to go online-only, digital advertising was the only lifeline for these outlets. The effects of collusion and manipulation of the digital ad market fall heavy on the already beleaguered local news industry.

The consolidated cases are currently pending and could go a number of different ways. Fitzsimmons said the court could select some as bellwethers, opt to test all cases for the individual claims, or send them back to the states of origination to be tried.

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10 responses to “More than 200 Local Newspaper Publishers Are Suing Google and Facebook for Damages”

  1. Miroslav Glavic says:

    bla bla bla old fossils are dying.

    Disclosure: I have worked for main stream media (fossils) and I work for digital-only media.

    Google is fully entitled to “prioritize” the order of results.

    If I am looking for the news in let’s say the UK…..Most likely the first few results will be BBC. In the US…CNN.

    We all know advertising revenue is dying on fossil media, I mean main stream media. Come on, when was the last time I saw a newspaper box or bought a physical newspaper? It’s all online now a days.

    After waking up in the morning, that hour I catch up on the news………I look at technology related websites, first one is WPTavern, CNET, Smashing Magazine. In that order…then other sites for other different topics.

    Most of the fossil media is biased anyways. So they do the same thing they are accusing Google and Facebook of doing.

    As someone who worked with fossil media……..I am glad this is happening to you and wake up to reality…It is 2021 and your way of doing things does not work.

    Think about the box, advertisement is so bad now a days…use affiliate links.

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  2. Lee says:

    Why oh why oh why do media companies not band together to set up their own competitor service?

    A news aggregation site that works like Google News that readers can bookmark, easily access and filter.

    A competitor ad service that old-stream news media can use to sell ad space within their own group and maybe pay content publishers to display.

    If they did this they could as a group instruct Google and other search engines not to list their old-stream news content.

    I’m not a Google extremophile but I will support Google’s right to do its business its way over the right of others, who can opt out of Google’s web index services, to sue Google because ‘we can’t be bothered to build a better service wah wah wah…’

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  3. Lawrie Roboto says:

    Kind of astonishing that these first two comments completely miss the fact that internal leaked documents show that Google lied about the detrimental impact of a service they were actively pushing as advantageous; colluded with Facebook to artificially drive up ad prices (and, if you actually read the documents, also show that they had a plan to wipe the evidence if they were ever found out); and that their ‘pay-what-we-want-because-we’re-the-only-show-in-town’ business model is in direct violation of competition law.

    It’s not simply that print media is dying and they need to suck it up and go digital (and again, if you read the article, the point is that many of them HAVE, and the problem is that Google & FB are trying to strangle them to death for daring to do so) – it’s that Google are actively using their power to stay at the top. ‘Why don’t they just create their own global ad platform that rivals Google?’ – seriously, listen to yourselves 🙄

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  4. Emily says:

    I think Google, Big Social Media and Big Marketplace is killing a lot of small website and small publishers.

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  5. Joel says:

    I agree with the basic initiative. Small & local publishers are unable to force out any positive change in the online space. AMP basically killed 80% of the total functionality of the sites and let’s only the “content” to users without any revenue option to the publishers.
    We need a global approach to solve this issue in long term, one lawsuit won’t be enough.

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  6. Grzegorz says:

    “Legacy media” need to organize and join the virtual space on a larger scale, otherwise we will be left with an Orwellian Google, Facebook or Twitter, with very limited perspectives and wild censorship. Monopoly is never a good thing.

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  7. One can find plenty of reasons why traditional media (particularly newspapers) are struggling. But it doesn’t help that two massive companies made false promises while negatively impacting ad revenue.

    I got my start at a small-town paper back in the day. There is a value in what they do. Hopefully we can find a way to keep local news going, because it impacts all of us.

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    • Carl Hancock says:

      Most people don’t realize just how important local and regional news is and what they are losing when these sources of news go out of business.

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