WASHINGTON - At a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch and News/Media Alliance President and CEO Danielle Coffey about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on journalism. 

“When you look at what's happened with newspaper advertising revenue….from 2008 to 2020, it went down from $37 billion to $9 billion. I am very concerned that these trends will only worsen with the rise of generative AI,” said Klobuchar. “That is why [we need] the bill that Senator Kennedy and I have led for years, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.”

Klobuchar is a vocal advocate for journalism and enacting common sense guardrails for emerging AI technologies.

In March of 2023, Klobuchar and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) reintroduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, their bipartisan legislation to address dominant online platforms’ power over news organizations. In June 2023, the Act was reported out of the Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan 14-7 vote. 

Klobuchar and Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced a discussion draft of the Nurture Originals, Foster Art, and Keep Entertainment Safe (NO FAKES) Act to protect the voice and visual likenesses of individuals from unfair use through generative AI.

In May of 2021, Klobuchar and Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation to create a committee to study the state of local journalism and offer recommendations to Congress on the actions it can take to support local news organizations.

In July of 2021, Klobuchar and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act to help financially support local news organizations through tax credits to incentivize hiring more journalists, subscriptions, and advertising from local small businesses.

A transcript of Klobuchar’s questions is available below. Video is available HERE for download.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: Why don't we start with you, Ms. Coffey? So numbers I have: Pew Research Center found that we lost about 40,000 newsroom jobs between ‘08 and ‘20. Why are these newspapers shutting down? Is it because we're so perfect that you have nothing to cover? Or perhaps there's a lot to cover, but there's not enough reporters. Could you answer why they're shutting down? 

Danielle Coffey: So you’re right to recognize that there is plenty to cover, and the value in the audience is exponentially increasing every year, like I said, it's the opposite trajectory when it comes to the revenue that returns to us because we have two dominant intermediaries who sit in between us and our readers. 70% of our traffic is relied upon, so we have no choice but to acquiesce to their terms of letting them crawl, scrape, and place our content within their walled gardens where users are ingesting, right now, images, snippets, featured snippets, and now soon AI, which will make them just never leave the platform because it's by design personalized to get personal information to then target users or with advertising using our content to engage those users in the first place. And so if there's no return to those who create the original content that's distributed by the monopoly dominant platforms, then … we're just not going to be able to pay journalists who create the quality in the first place.

Klobuchar: Exactly. Mr. Lynch. Do you have any choice over whether you're able to decide whether your content is used to train AI models, and do you have a choice about whether to let them scrape your content or not?

Roger Lynch: It is a somewhat complicated issue. When you hear some of the AI companies say that they are creating opt-outs, it's great. The only thing that will do is to prevent a new competitor from training new models to compete with them, so the opt-out of the training is too late, frankly. The other side of the equation is the outputs. The models need to be trained and then they need access to content, current content to respond to queries. So, in the case of search companies, if you opt-out of the output, you have to opt-out of all of their search. Search is the lifeblood of digital publishers. Most digital publishers, half or more of their traffic originates from a search engine. If you cut off your search engine, you cut off your business. So, there is not a way to opt-out of the output side of it, letting it have access to your content for the outputs, retrieval, argumentation, and generation, without opting-out of search. 

Klobuchar: So you have a dominant search engine when like 90%? Google. And so then you pay fees, right, to get this content to get to you, is that right? You said in your testimony, Ms. Coffey, you explained that when users click through to news sites, Big Tech gets fees for web traffic, is that right? 

Coffey: Yes, the Ad Tech Tax, that's correct. 

Klobuchar: For the Ad Tech, right?

Coffey: Right.

Klobuchar:  And so, but then if you want to opt-out of the AI model, you'll be opting-out of the, what is for many news organizations, now, the monopoly model that you're forced to use is the only way to get to your site. 

Lynch: Correct, you opt-out of search.

Klobuchar: Got it down. Okay. So last question. In addition to the licensing issues, my colleagues have raised in ways we can clarify that, is the bill that Senator Kennedy and I have. Mr. Lynch, in your testimony, you explain that Australia's news media bargaining code has been successful in leading to negotiations between tech platforms and news organizations. People have to understand these are trillion-dollar companies, and you'll have a tiny newspaper for a town of a thousand people, and they won't even return their calls. Can you talk about how the success of the new laws in Australia, and actually in Canada, have supported journalism and led to the hiring of additional journalists? 

Lynch: Yeah, so there's been reporting out of Australia that the $140 million dollars that has flowed back to news organization publishers there have resulted in hiring or rehiring of journalists. So, you know, the first thing we have to do is you heard from Ms. Coffey earlier about the decline, what was the cause of the decline, the number of reporters in his last year alone 8,000 journalists have lost their jobs in the in the US, Canada, and UK. So the first thing is to stop that decline because that decline, I would argue, undermines democracy, undermines the Fourth Estate, and in the way to do that is to ensure there's compensation for the use of this content. There's adequate, I think, evidence now from what's happened in Australia and now in Canada that the Big Tech companies didn't fall over, their business models continued on, and now journalism is starting to flourish again in these markets.

Klobuchar: And just Ms. Coffey, anything you want to add to that, and I'm done.

Coffey: We can send something. It’s background on the labor index, it shows the journalist job spiked afterward, and it plateaued and then have steadily rose. 

Klobuchar: Okay, thank you.