Google, Facebook sued by publishers


Publishers of 125 newspapers in 11 states filed or announced lawsuits against Google and Facebook on Monday claiming the tech giants have unlawfully monopolized the digital advertising market and engaged in an illegal secretive deal, nicknamed “Jedi Blue,” to thwart competition.

Fourteen complaints were filed or announced by publishers from Indiana, including AIM Media (parent company of AIM Media Indiana and owners of The Tribune), Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Mississippi, New Jersey, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland and Delaware.

The claims follow a January antitrust suit against Google and Facebook filed by HD Media, a West Virginia-based newspaper company that publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail and (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch.

AIM Media, which also includes AIM Media Texas and AIM Media Midwest, publishes approximately 50 newspapers in four states. Other AIM Media Indiana newspapers include The Jackson County Banner, The Republic, The Franklin Daily Journal and The Greenfield Daily Reporter.

AIM Media is led by CEO Jeremy Halbreich, a veteran newspaper executive who previously served as board chairman and CEO of Sun-Times Media, publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times along with seven other daily newspapers and 40 weekly newspapers in the Chicago region.

“As found by recent investigations conducted by both federal and state agencies, Google and Facebook have monopolized the digital advertising market and restricted the monetization of local news by local news organizations,” Halbreich said. “This has had a dramatic impact on the revenues and resources available for local news organizations. These monopolistic practices must come to an end. It is no longer appropriate for these two platforms to profit directly from local news while publishers increasingly struggle.”

In October 2020, the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law issued a 470-page report detailing Google and Facebook’s conduct in the digital advertising market and the profound effects it has had upon America’s free and diverse press, particularly the newspaper industry.

The Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice and numerous state attorneys general also have filed antitrust claims against Google or Facebook or both.

Newspapers have been acutely impacted: Advertising revenue plunged from $49 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017, threatening the existence of local news, according to the complaints.

“The freedom of the press is not at stake,” the complaints state. “The press itself is at stake.”

Nearly 30,000 newspaper jobs disappeared — a 60% industrywide decline — from 1990 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost 20% of all newspapers have closed in the past 15 years, and “countless others have become shells — or ‘ghosts’ — of themselves,” according to a recent report by the University of North Carolina.

“Newspapers are essential to the functioning of our democracy, and there is no replacement for a well-informed citizenry,” said Paul Farrell Jr., an attorney for the newspaper publishers. “This is a fight worth fighting.”

Other publishers filing suit Monday are Brown County Publishing Company Inc. and Multi Media Channels LLC; Clarksburg Publishing Company, dba WV News; Coastal Point LLC; Eagle Printing Company; Ecent Corp.; Emmerich Newspapers Inc.; Flag Publications Inc.; Gale Force Media LLC; and Journal Inc.

In addition, WKTimes LLC and Pinnacle Communications, publisher of Northeast News, have announced their intention to file similar suits in the near future.

The newspaper publishers are represented by a national coalition of attorneys: Paul Farrell Jr. and Mike Fuller of Farrell and Fuller LLC; Paul Geller, Stuart Davidson, David Mitchell and Steve Jodlowski of Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd LLP; Clayton Fitzsimmons, Bob Fitzsimmons and Mark Colantonio of Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC; and John Herman and Serina Vash of Herman Jones LLP.

Halbreich also is the founder and chairman of American Consolidated Media, publisher of 110 daily and weekly newspapers in 10 states and ex-president and general manager of the Dallas Morning News.

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