Google says it will reduce some user access to California news sites

Wendy Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Google said Friday it would remove links to California news sites from its search results for some of its users, as it pushes back against a pending bill that would require the Silicon Valley technology company to pay publishers.

The search giant said the bill, called the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), would upend its business model. The bill, if signed into law, would require companies including Google to fork over a "journalism usage fee" when they sell ads next to news content.

"We have long said that this is the wrong approach to supporting journalism," wrote Jaffer Zaidi, vice president of Google's Global News Partnerships, in a blog post on Friday. "If passed, CJPA may result in significant changes to the services we can offer Californians and the traffic we can provide to California publishers."

Google also said it is "pausing further investments in the California news ecosystem."

Many news outlets rely on sites like Google and Facebook to distribute its news, but they are at the whim of the companies' algorithms.

Publishers, including the Los Angeles Times, have laid off staff in part due to revenue shortfalls blamed on the decline of print journalism and weak advertising dollars.

National news organizations such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal also have laid off staff, as have primarily digital operations including BuzzFeed, Business Insider and Vice.

Local online outlet L.A. Taco, which recently put most of its staff on furlough, said one of the factors leading to its struggles include "Google's A.I. that pulls information for its self-generated responses from news organizations without linking back." It also cited changing audience habits as people gravitate toward watching influencer-style videos instead of reading articles.

"These two factors essentially destroyed journalism's business model overnight," wrote Javier Cabral, L.A. Taco's editor.

The California Journalism Preservation Act is supported by the California News Publishers Assn. and the News/Media Alliance, of which The Times is a member.


The California News Publishers Assn. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Supporters of the California bill said it would help level the playing field for journalism outlets that have been struggling with gaining enough digital subscriptions to survive .

"Just to understand the difference in market dynamics, just consider that Google earns enough advertising revenue to pay for the [annual] cost of our newsroom in less than three hours," said Chris Argentieri, president and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Times at a hearing last year discussing the bill. "Google's revenue for a month or two would cover the cost of all working journalists in California.

"Large digital platforms like Google and Meta use our content to generate billions of dollars in revenue and do not compensate us for it," Argentieri said. "The size of the companies makes it impossible for us or anyone in our industry, for that matter, to have a seat at the table to resolve this issue through normal business channels."

Critics of the bill, including Google, say that it would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds and put smaller outlets at a disadvantage.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based firm said it has partnered with more than 7,000 global news publishers through its Google News Initiative, including 6,000 journalists in California, but Zaidi said the company was pausing expansion of that initiative "until there's clarity on California's regulatory environment."

The initiative has helped provide grants and training to journalists on digital tools. Just 2% of queries on Google search are news-related, Zaidi wrote.

"By helping people find news stories, we help publishers of all sizes grow their audiences at no cost to them," Zaidi wrote. "CJPA would up-end that model."

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