More reporters on the antitrust beat

“For the sake of journalism’s future financial independence, it is in the interest not only of the public, but of journalists themselves, to grapple with the complexities of this beat.”

In the year ahead more newsrooms, both large and niche, will report on antitrust, a beat that may not sound sexy but is essential to understanding our economy — and essential to the future of journalism. Expect more reporters with a background in business, tech, and law to explain how the impact of consolidated power in transforming the news industry at the national, state, and local level.

In 2022, several media outlets strengthened their newsrooms with antitrust reporters. A search for “antitrust” on Talking Biz News reveals hirings or poaching of experienced and young talent alike by Bloomberg, Politico, MLex, The Information, and Vox/Recode.

This beat has produced important stories likely to draw more public attention in the long term. Among them: President Biden’s executive order to foster competition, Congress’s crafting of the American Innovation and Online Choice Act and the Open App Markets Act and its failure (so far) to pass them; and the glacial but landmark legal efforts by federal and state regulators to rein in Big Tech.

Some aspects of this beat can help journalists to better explain the business side of their own trade — and how antitrust enforcement, by handicapping Big Tech, can level the playing field for journalism, putting it on the path to financial sustainability.

One arena of the beat deserving of more scrutiny and explanation is business practices that have shaped the digital advertising market. This basically boils down to highlighting how Google and Facebook have not only extracted value from news consumers and publishers but captured all but a tiny sliver of the market for selling and serving ads. These ad tech systems, paired with Big Tech’s ability to collect large swaths of personal data, have created an uneven playing field where competing for ads dollars is untenable.

Antitrust cases take several years to yield results. Ahead of an expected trial in 2023, the federal lawsuit, filed in 2020, against Google over illegal monopolization of online search and search advertising markets, may impact how consumers access information on phones and desktops, as well as how search engines compete for ad dollars. And that’s only in the U.S.; action in the European Union and elsewhere, like in the U.K., is another story worth following this year.

Another antitrust case against Google over monopolization of the digital advertising market, filed in 2019 by a coalition of 17 states led by the Texas attorney general, explores Google’s abuse of power in different segments of the ad-tech industry, including findings that its practices financially hurt publishers. One of the three counts in the suit, for example, alleges that Google leveraged its dominance in ad exchange services to coerce publishers to manage its inventory with DoubleClick, a leading platform for publishers Google acquired in 2007. Snubbing Google’s motion to dismiss, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that Google should face most of the complaint, including the aforementioned allegation, although Google has attempted to portray that this complaint is not moving forward.

Covering antitrust can be intimidating at first. At least, it was for me when I first a joined the team of journalists who regularly write about the intersection of competition policy and the press at the Open Markets Institute.  A good place to start is with books such as The Curse of Bigness by White House policy expert Tim Wu, who offers a digestible explanation of U.S. antitrust history.

Fortunately, the goal of antitrust is fairly simple to explain: It intends to foster fair free markets that incentivize innovation, equality, and prosperity. When antitrust enforcement keeps monopolists at bay, consumers have more choices; workers have more bargaining power; and no one seller gets to abuse its power over suppliers, and vice versa. These are all fundamental traits of democracy. For the sake of journalism’s future financial independence, it is in the interest not only of the public, but of journalists themselves, to grapple with the complexities of this beat.

Karina Montoya, specializing in privacy and media policy, is a reporter and research associate at the Open Markets Institute.

In the year ahead more newsrooms, both large and niche, will report on antitrust, a beat that may not sound sexy but is essential to understanding our economy — and essential to the future of journalism. Expect more reporters with a background in business, tech, and law to explain how the impact of consolidated power in transforming the news industry at the national, state, and local level.

In 2022, several media outlets strengthened their newsrooms with antitrust reporters. A search for “antitrust” on Talking Biz News reveals hirings or poaching of experienced and young talent alike by Bloomberg, Politico, MLex, The Information, and Vox/Recode.

This beat has produced important stories likely to draw more public attention in the long term. Among them: President Biden’s executive order to foster competition, Congress’s crafting of the American Innovation and Online Choice Act and the Open App Markets Act and its failure (so far) to pass them; and the glacial but landmark legal efforts by federal and state regulators to rein in Big Tech.

Some aspects of this beat can help journalists to better explain the business side of their own trade — and how antitrust enforcement, by handicapping Big Tech, can level the playing field for journalism, putting it on the path to financial sustainability.

One arena of the beat deserving of more scrutiny and explanation is business practices that have shaped the digital advertising market. This basically boils down to highlighting how Google and Facebook have not only extracted value from news consumers and publishers but captured all but a tiny sliver of the market for selling and serving ads. These ad tech systems, paired with Big Tech’s ability to collect large swaths of personal data, have created an uneven playing field where competing for ads dollars is untenable.

Antitrust cases take several years to yield results. Ahead of an expected trial in 2023, the federal lawsuit, filed in 2020, against Google over illegal monopolization of online search and search advertising markets, may impact how consumers access information on phones and desktops, as well as how search engines compete for ad dollars. And that’s only in the U.S.; action in the European Union and elsewhere, like in the U.K., is another story worth following this year.

Another antitrust case against Google over monopolization of the digital advertising market, filed in 2019 by a coalition of 17 states led by the Texas attorney general, explores Google’s abuse of power in different segments of the ad-tech industry, including findings that its practices financially hurt publishers. One of the three counts in the suit, for example, alleges that Google leveraged its dominance in ad exchange services to coerce publishers to manage its inventory with DoubleClick, a leading platform for publishers Google acquired in 2007. Snubbing Google’s motion to dismiss, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that Google should face most of the complaint, including the aforementioned allegation, although Google has attempted to portray that this complaint is not moving forward.

Covering antitrust can be intimidating at first. At least, it was for me when I first a joined the team of journalists who regularly write about the intersection of competition policy and the press at the Open Markets Institute.  A good place to start is with books such as The Curse of Bigness by White House policy expert Tim Wu, who offers a digestible explanation of U.S. antitrust history.

Fortunately, the goal of antitrust is fairly simple to explain: It intends to foster fair free markets that incentivize innovation, equality, and prosperity. When antitrust enforcement keeps monopolists at bay, consumers have more choices; workers have more bargaining power; and no one seller gets to abuse its power over suppliers, and vice versa. These are all fundamental traits of democracy. For the sake of journalism’s future financial independence, it is in the interest not only of the public, but of journalists themselves, to grapple with the complexities of this beat.

Karina Montoya, specializing in privacy and media policy, is a reporter and research associate at the Open Markets Institute.

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