Finally, good news for Google

James Fallows writes an important cover story for The Atlantic on how Google wants to help save the news. It doesn’t break a single new nugget of news. It’s the piece’s attitude that makes it must reading for everyone in the news business, in the U.S. and even moreso in Europe.

Google is not the enemy. But don’t take my word for it if you don’t want to. Take Fallows’.

Fallows, who has been admirably forward-thinking and curious in his coverage of technology and media (see his test of Bing v. Google, for example), comes at the question of Google’s relationship to news as neither enemy nor fanboy. He simply wants to understand what Google’s attitude is toward the news and then what the company is doing to back up its expressed sentiments about helping save (or I’d prefer to say, advance) news. He writes:

Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. Few people know how hard Google is trying to bring it back to life, or why the company now considers journalism’s survival crucial to its own prospects…. But after talking during the past year with engineers and strategists at Google and recently interviewing some of their counterparts inside the news industry, I am convinced that there is a larger vision for news coming out of Google; that it is not simply a charity effort to buy off critics; and that it has been pushed hard enough by people at the top of the company, especially Schmidt, to become an internalized part of the culture in what is arguably the world’s most important media organization. Google’s initiatives do not constitute a complete or easy plan for the next phase of serious journalism. But they are more promising than what I’m used to seeing elsewhere, notably in the steady stream of “Crisis of the Press”–style reports.

Fallows says that the three pillars of a new online business model for news, in Google’s view, are “distribution, engagement, and monetization.” My equivalents are the conveniently alliterative engagement (for the public), effectiveness (for advertisers), and efficiency (in the operation). That is to say, Google doesn’t touch — nor should it want or need to — the fourth and vital leg to sustainable business models for news: cost. That’s what will make it easier to get Politico’s local product, TBD.com, to profitability more easily than the competitive Washington Post can stay there. That’s why I am looking more at the entrepreneurial than institutional future of news. That’s why I think this quest Google and others are on is about more than saving newspapers and more than saving news; it’s about finding new opportunities. But nevermind that.

What Fallows finds inside Google is people who care about news, who are working to try to create new forms for news and structures for the companies that produce it, who are indeed making it a priority. He finds people who want to work together. I say news companies are fools not to at least listen.

  • http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki Bill Seitz

    I agree that Google is not the enemy.

    But neither will it be the savior. At least not of new corporations as currently sized/structured.

    I’d be more-than-willing to place a LongBet for $100 against Fallows or Schmidt on the Grow-The-Pie scenario, if it could be written properly…

    I think this was puff. I’m surprised that Fallows didn’t give more time to the idea that maybe journalism will be ok but delivered via much smaller organizations, probably with new names/ownership.

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  • http://www.ugandansabroad.org Becky Harshbarger

    This was a great read during a long, delayed train ride to D.C– it didn’t break any news, but it was informative and had that sea change tone in attitude. One of my favorite parts is when Google’s researchers point out that the only ones bringing value to news operations are those writing, editing, and reporting ( but they only take in a relatively small part of revenue that the companies earn). As a reporter, I am nervous about the next few years, but for the next ten years, I am genuinely excited. The discussion of how customized, smart display ads will be ultimately worth than print ads also gave me some hope.
    Becky

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  • Andy Freeman

    > One of my favorite parts is when Google’s researchers point out that the only ones bringing value to news operations are those writing, editing, and reporting ( but they only take in a relatively small part of revenue that the companies earn).

    Absolutely.

    However, you have to actually do the work. You can’t reprint/rewrite press releases.

  • http://gregorywest.wordpress.com Gregory West

    As Andy Freeman clearly points out, “However, you have to actually do the work. You can’t reprint/rewrite press releases”. They are doing this in India for peanuts and emailing the articles back to be published. Let’s hope this “new way” isn’t the permanent and future way of journalism.

    As a former student of journalism and currently a tech columnist, I am interested in seeing how the journalists of the future are to be paid or subsidized. I do believe that we will see much more individualism and less of the corporate structure involved in the writing of the news.

    I also believe, given the current state of technology, it is a good thing to see that we may be heading to a real sense of “freedom of the press”. Although, at what cost, nobody can foretell this one.

  • Andy Freeman

    > You can’t reprint/rewrite press releases”. They are doing this in India for peanuts and emailing the articles back to be published. Let’s hope this “new way” isn’t the permanent and future way of journalism.

    I claim that the journalism structures that will make a lot of money will be providing good, valueable, and unique.

    There is money to be made with “journalism” that is missing one or more of those characteristics (especially good), but if you’re not providing unique, you’ve got serious competition. No producer wins a price war.

    Then again, if you can’t cover a US beat better than some folks in India ….

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  • http://www.kbznz.com Sheryl

    Just finished reading WWGD and admittedly loved it. With Jarvis’ first law ingrained in my mind, last night on KVBC’s Face to Face, Ralston interviewed Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson, the attorney bringing suits against small website owners who link to the Las Vegas Review Journal’s website. No cease and desist just suing over copyright infringement. The LVRJ believes it is of no benefit to them to allow small website publishers to link to their content. As a small publisher looking to use more RSS feeds I find this move shocking. Even worse, they are going after individuals domains if they don’t have assets to pay. Not sure how this will work out, but wish they’d read WWGD. Curious if anyone has recommended reading re: the legalities of adding RSS feeds to websites. Any help or advice would be appreciated.

    Jeff, thanks for a great read.

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