Guardian column: Google and the wires

The real reason for Google’s news-wire deal

Jeff Jarvis
Monday September 10, 2007
The Guardian

Publishers: Be careful what you wish for. Journalistic organisations and news agencies have complained that Google has benefited from their headlines (while I argue it is they who have benefited from Google’s links). So the Press Association, the Associated Press, Canadian Press, and Agence France-Presse just forced the search engine to license their content. Now, rather than linking to the wire services’ clients for their articles, Google News is displaying the agency reports in full on its site.

The victory is Pyrrhic. For the agencies have transformed Google into what it was not, into what they and their clients should most dread: Google is now a content company. It is a competitor not just for ad dollars but for readers’ attention. The deal also reveals the weakness of the wire services’ business on the internet. The press agencies forced Google into the old-media model they understood – wire services aggregated the news and then syndicated it. So they wanted to sell content to Google. But the link makes syndication obsolete. Why should 10,000 sites run the same wire story when they can all link to it? The link is more efficient. And Google is the new aggregator. It is a platform, a connector that hooks together readers with the information they want, and if you are a provider of that information and know how to profit from the traffic search sends, you are in luck.

So rather than trying to cut off Google or make it pay, news organisations should devise more ways to get more Google links. Indeed, I say that if the news agencies wanted to serve the cause of journalism, they should help Google link not to their own articles, which are often just rehashes of the commodity news everyone already has, but to the original reporting they draw upon. Google and the wire services should be supporting journalism at its source and encouraging more of it. And news organisations should be trying to create more valuable and unique reporting to stand out and be seen in this web of content. My standing advice to journalists on the internet is, do what you do best and link to the rest. That is how people will discover you: through your value, not because you are a destination. My teen son told a newspaper executive recently that he never goes to sites directly to read them – not major news brands, not blogs (not even his father’s). He gets to the news he reads – and he reads a lot of it – through the links of peers who aggregate headlines in services such as Quality will out.

The wire services’ deal is all the worse because Google has also announced a program that will allow the subjects of news stories to go to Google News and comment there on the treatment they receive from journalists elsewhere. This is more content and more reason for readers to stay on Google’s site rather than clicking to the source. It is another way in which Google becomes a media – instead of merely a technology – company. All news organisations should have been enabling such dialogue on their own sites. They didn’t, so now Google will. As with so much online, Google is not invading media’s territory so much as it is filling the voids media leave behind.

Part of Google’s rationale for its press-agency deals, according to its blog, is that they can now eliminate duplicate wire stories from search results. That smells like spin. Google could have eliminated duplication and still pointed to the news agencies or their clients. I believe the real rationale for the deal is that the wire services, serving a shrinking news industry, needed to find new revenue, which Google provides.

Reuters is following a different strategy. Unlike the other agencies, it is building an online news destination and brand. But that, I surmise, is what got it in trouble with CNN, which last week dropped Reuters’ services and a reported $3.5m in fees. Just as others see Google as competition, some see Reuters’ direct relationship with readers as a threat. Today, you can’t tell your enemies without a scorecard.

Well, I’ll try to make it simpler; in the internet age, aggregation is the new distribution. If you’re not aggregated – if you can’t be searched and linked – you won’t be found. Note as a matter of disclosure that I am consulting editor to, a startup that also aggregates and analyses news. I joined because I believe that creating these links is critical to enabling the new architecture of media. Indeed, I hope that technologists will soon create more complex maps of content revealing all their interrelations: original reporting to aggregation to conversation to correction. Thus the link will enrich the news. That’s what I wish for.

· Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at the City University of New York who blogs at