Guest Editorial: Lawsuit on conspiracy to rig online ad auctions

Written by ECA Review

I have been in the industry for 22 years. When I started at the Pass Herald we were a large paper with seven employees. We had a Compugraphic computer and hand-pasted photo film type paper onto a page. Today I create the paper on a computer, PDF the pages and drop the finished paper into the Lethbridge Herald Dropbox for printing.

I can’t help but fondly remember those days, when the paper was full of ads, we were all doing our job to sell ads, lay out the papers, distribute and do the accounting. We had a lot of people in the office and boy it was fun. Today there is just three of us and contract workers. I can’t afford to hire anyone else.  We work bare bones to keep this paper alive and often I’m embarrassed to think of how little I make as a wage.

Why are things so difficult for traditional media? Facebook and Google have changed the distribution of advertising dollars in this country, and really the world, and believe me it’s not in favour of traditional media like the Pass Herald. I truly believe there are antitrust issues at play here. More than 50 per cent of total ad dollars are spent on digital advertising, and two companies control that marketplace. 

This lawsuit will shine a light on that.  Perhaps the federal government should ask the Competition Bureau Canada to investigate. 

As a small community newspaper owner, I became concerned that not enough was being done to help the 40+ independent publishers in Alberta, never mind the 400+ across Canada.  Current efforts by News Media Canada lobbying the federal government to compel Google and Facebook to pay licensing fees to news content providers seem focused upon the bigger players. Players such as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and Postmedia. 

Should this legislation regarding licensing fees come true, my guess is NONE of that money will ever trickle down to weekly independent papers, and like always, we will lose out to the chains, fighting over the profits at the expense of the little guys. Nobody seemed to be looking after the interests of independent newspapers in this country; papers that actually live in communities, covering soccer games, council meetings and keeping the history of towns. As the plaintiff in the lawsuit, it is the independent newspapers that your Pass Herald is giving a voice to.

I’m interested in sustaining the community newspaper industry. It’s not about the money, it’s about keeping local news in our communities and giving us independents a voice.

This lawsuit could be a real game-changer. It has the potential to stem the tide of “news deserts” (communities that have lost their local papers) and keep local news in small centers across Alberta. We are seeing hundred year-old newspapers shutting down all over the country.

I will fight tooth and nail to protect independent newspapers. Now it’s time for the 400 of us in Canada to step up to the plate and fight for our rights. As the plaintiff in the class action, the Pass Herald is the vehicle for this movement

Our little weekly may have started the process but it’s up to each and every newspaper in this country to create the movement.  We have been used to taking scraps from Google and Facebook and thinking that’s the best we can do. I’m here to tell you to remember what and who you are. 

Newspapers are the history of this great country; we are the written and photographic diary of our communities. We are not the industry that takes scraps from anyone. We are the power of the press and the check and balance against tyranny. We are the people who write the facts and let the reader come up with their conclusion. 

Yet when you are struggling to survive on handouts can you really do your job as owners and publishers the way it’s been throughout history? 

I’m doing everything I can to help them but now our entire industry must come together to fight for what is right.

Lisa Sygutek, publisher

Crowsnest Pass Herald

 

Sotos Class Actions of Toronto issued a statement of claim against Google and Facebook March 16th on behalf of the Pass Herald, a community newspaper that serves the Crowsnest Pass area of southwest Alberta.  The class action claims damages of one billion dollars against the two tech companies, alleging that Google and Facebook entered into an agreement that allowed them to benefit financially at the expense of other digital publishers.

 The statement of claim alleges the two companies engaged in a conspiracy to rig online ad auctions, allocate markets, and fix and maintain prices in the market for display advertising, contrary to the Competition Act.  It further alleges that publishers and advertisers suffered significant damages as a result.

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