Forbes’ Paul Maidment bashes the newspaper industry (uh-oh, more competition) following another moribund conference. But he gets it backwards.

If there was a change in print executives’ moods at the conference in Las Vegas, it was that a decade of consolidation and cost cutting to maintain what have been fat industry profit margins are giving way to talk of Internet publishing opportunities. Sigh. Earth to newspaper executives: Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft have, in the meantime, made themselves into media companies that are bigger than any newspaper.

Even the mighty minds behind Google took several years to realize that they were a media company, not a tech company. But they and their fellow West Coasters have invented a new way of presenting journalism, through aggregation rather than creation. They have also invented a new way of consuming it, through search, and have found new expression to an age-old publishing truth–that if you can gather an audience, you can make money. In doing so, they have been ripping out the commercial heart of the newspaper industry, its classified ads business.

No, I say that’s mixed up. Search — namely, Google — and links — namely, blogs — send huge traffic to news sites. Without that audience and attention and branding, the old news sites’ online efforts would founder, taking the mother ships down with them.

In a distributed world, you want to be aggregated. If you’re not aggregated, you’re nowhere. (Not-quite-full disclosure: The news startup I’ve been working on promises to organize the world’s news.)

And Google did not kill the classifieds business. Neither did Craig. The advent of a new, distributed, edge-controlled medium that can put buyer and seller together directly, without the need for a centralized marketplace, is what did in classifieds.

Beware the French strategy of trying to avoid Google. That is like avoiding the newsstand.

  • In other words: The MSM still produces most of the content. That’s their strength, they should focus on it.

    But of course, they’re outsourcing that to Reuters et al.

  • I think you are reaching with this “Bassackwards” claim.

    If would be “Bassackwards” if Google couldn’t survive without MSM content. All you are saying is that old line media benefits some from the web traffic.

    Jeff, Google benefits a lot more. Compare their financials to that of NYT, etc.

    Furthermore, media is but one component of Google’s, Yahoo’s, and Microsoft’s business.

  • If you’re not aggregated, you’re nowhere.

    Not much of a reach. I like the above expression very much. Essentially if you’re not linked you’re nowhere, and aggregators provide the most powerful links.

    I thought today of one example of how badly newspapers don’t get it. Pick up any Sunday paper and see if the paper’s Table of Contents gives you the equivalent of a site map for a decent website; does it provide a sorted list containing every story in the issue and where to find it? None do, I think.

  • Paul Maidment

    i don’t think I got anyhing backwards. My argument was that most newspaper companies were slow to understand the switch in publishing from being a proprietary medium to a distributed one, and to start creatinig the content that would best exploit that change. I also think most newspaper executives didn’t understand, or perhaps prefered not to face, the change in the underlying economics of their business. That tardiness let new competitors with different models establish themselves. I certainly did not suggest that Google or Craig’s killed the classified advertising business. They have enlarged it. But they took great chunks of it away from newspapers.

  • I have seen through that the newspapers are for sure worried about online advertisers taking away their business. It seems to took them years to actually realize this. Now they are scrambling to catch up to craigslist and others.