Newspapers need Google

Continuing yesterday’s discussion about nearsighted (or is that rearsighted?) newspaper people blaming Google for their problems:

Heather Hopkins, vp of research for Hitwise UK, blogs about data showing how GoogleNews is our newsstand and newspaper truck and billboard. GoogleNews sends news sites people. Hopkins reports that in the UK, two weeks ago, GoogleNews fell behind Digg “share of UK visits to News and Media websites. Yahoo! News UK & Ireland ranks at #4, at #6 and Google News UK at #7 among News and Media websites.” But GoogleNews, she says, refers “five times more traffic to News and Media websites than Yahoo! UK & Ireland News.” This chart from Hitwise shows “the share of visits that News and Media websites receive from Google News UK, Yahoo! UK & Ireland News and”


Hopkins continues (my emphasis):

Google’s footprint among News and Media websites is larger than its rank would suggest because most visitors leave Google News to go to another news provider. Last week, BBC News was the top recipient of traffic, getting 3.6% of Google News’ traffic, followed by 2.0% to Guardian Unlimited, 2.0% to Times Online, 1.4% to Daily Mail and 1.0% to Sky News. 28% of visits from Google News UK went to Print Media websites, 7% to Sports, 6% to Television and 4% to Business Information.

: And in the comments below, Jay Rosen points to an eloquent response to that rearsighted newspaperman and journalism professor from Douglas McLennan, editor of, which I quote in full:

Google? So now Google is what’s doing in newspapers? This is exactly the kind of backwards Old World thinking that is killing newspapers. There are many reasons newspapers are having a tough go these days (unsustainable profit margin expectations among them). But two things are clear – the appetite for news is only growing. And the news industry is in a transition to digital delivery, and figuring out a business model that makes that work should be the highest priority.

And yet, look at the digital operations of most newspapers. While they say they’re working on it, their investment has been far behind the curve, and virtually every meaningful innovation in the digital delivery of news and building of usership has been made outside the newspaper industry. Most newspaper websites are dull, confusing and difficult to read, violating long-established principles of reader usability. At a time when social networking sites are showing how to build massive loyal communities, news organizations’ interactivity is rudimentary at best. Companies like Google have raised digital advertising to an art, making it easy for advertisers to find the customers they want. Where have newspapers been? Asleep, while Craigslist and a host of other competitors have eaten their lunch.

Newspapers started out with enormous advantages going into the digital age (remember “content is King”?) and have squandered it while others innovated. To take even one small example: there isn’t a single newspaper that has figured out a really usable way online to find out what’s going on tonight without lots of clicks and searching. So dozens of upstart online companies are finding a big audience. What a missed opportunity.

How many newspapers have reconfigured their staffing to reflect the new hybrid print/online reality? Why are high-paid editors and reporters uploading jpegs and podcasts when digital assistants ought to be doing the mechanical tasks? Fast-moving web companies have learned to move with audiences and make those audiences part of a community. Newspapers, for the most part, hold on to rigid models and jump on new tools (everybody blog now!) without understanding how those tools can be used.

If I was pointing fingers, I’d aim squarely at the business managers who are so locked into the old ways of doing things that they don’t even understand what the new issues are, let alone solutions to them. Journalists are being failed by those whose job it is to figure out the business side, and now journalists are paying the price for that lack of vision. Like somehow cheapening the product and giving readers less is going to attract more customers.

To speak directly to the rant about Google: Google is an infrastructure, potentially the best friend any content producer has at the moment. Google sends floods of traffic around the internet in search of content its users want, presented in ways they can use it. Newspapers have always been about finding a readership and advertisers who want to reach those readers. There shouldn’t be a conflict here. Google is a reality. Any news organization that wants to make it in the new digital world better find a way to work with companies like Google and the next YouTube rather than thinking about “class-action suits.” Jeesh!

  • Eric Gauvin

    Digg provides “news?!” Digg is just a place to mess around with the latest viral crap.

    Sounds like the beginning of a really pathetic news distribution system. See the movie Idiocracy.

  • Greg0658

    One more time – it’s dillution and overabundance of outlets. Not enough cash to filll the till. Buildings, utilities and taxes are expensive these days.

    Look around – big box general stores, little stuff stores, restaurants, artists, tv stations, radio stations websites and blogs.

    IMO spread to thin. And I see to many captains and not enough grunts sucking the pie dry. Who pays for this survey and that analysis and that study?

    Paper pushing society we are for busy work. Any pyramid ideas for a pitcher of beer, bread and a tent?

  • Eric Gauvin

    …still don’t see your point that the “Newspapers need google” any more than the average site needs google.

    What do you see as a potential good business model for healthy journalism in the US?

  • I Belgium, there was a trial between newspapers (online) and google. During 6 months, google stopped to link to the belgian newspapers

    A friend of mine looked at the figures evolution during the 6 months period. It appears that the websites of the newspapers grew normally:

    the post about this is here: (it’s in french but with plenty of figures)

  • David

    There is no “business” model for healthy journalism. It’s essentially a loss leader that, in the long run, may be fundamentally untenable because of the costs involved and, similarly, the apparent difficulty involved with convincing consumers to pay for subscriptions on the internet. Subscriptions are relevant in this context because they effectively subsidize less popular articles. If for example, writers (or newspapers or magazines etc) were paid on the basis of their article’s popularity, through ads or a la carte payments, the economics involved could prompt a race to the bottom – in other words, writing about Paris Hilton’s latest return to/from rehab would probably generate more traffic than an article about prisoner interrogation techniques in Iraq, thus generating more ad revenue.

    The only real long-term solution IMO is through the use of public funding (e.g. BBC, NPR).

  • Thoughts on David’s comment:

    Journalism has been considered a loss-leader (with the product being eyeballs for advertisers) for so long that it may take a while to establish new economic models, but they *will* be established, and the people who create them will make a ton of money. It might help to start with the premise that “journalism” IS the product, and then go from there.

    The problem with journalism on the web is that there’s presently no equivalent of single-copy-purchase available– nothing like the corner newsstand. The subscription model isn’t working because it requires readers to pay in advance for a bundle of stuff, some of which they may not want, and some of which commodity news, which someone, somewhere, will *always* be giving away for free.

    I for one would be glad to pay something reasonable for the articles I read on line, but there’s no easy way for me to do it. People have been talking about micropayments for years, so why the heck haven’t the publishers (who have the most to lose) figured out how to do them?

    Of course, for micropayments to succeed you have to let everybody in. And that might mean that some readers might want to send some of those payments to folks outside the existing news club. Perhaps fear of losing control of those dollars is contributing to the foot-dragging?

    And an effective micropayment system solves the problem of supporting the writing of less-than-popular articles, because you’re no longer talking about a percentage of a subscription-based publication’s readers, instead it’s the percentage of readers on the entire web (c.f., “long tail” and all that). With micripayments the Iraq interrogation article doesn’t make as much as the Paris Hilton article, but it probably makes *enough*. And I would posit that there are writers out there for whom “enough” IS “enough,” provided they are allowed to follow their interests (rather than be tasked with covering Paris Hilton).

    (Plus, who says that the “race to the bottom” hasn’t already happened… read your local Gannett lately? Personally, I’d rather see the balance of coverage being driven by the “votes” of paying readers rather than by the charitable impulses– or “sense of duty”– of a for-profit corporation that views journalism as an expense only loosely related to its true business of selling eyeballs to advertisers.)

    And the advertising-supported model also gets in the way of serving readers because it leads to the attitude that “anything that might be considered (by some purist) to be advertising has to be paid for.” McLennan highlights the problem:

    “…there isn’t a single newspaper that has figured out a really usable way online to find out what’s going on tonight without lots of clicks and searching.”

    IMO, the reason for this is that newspapers still think the “what’s going on tonight” directory (and items like it) is a box to be filled with paid advertisements, rather than as a collection of information that they assemble for their readers. Again, who’s the customer here? As a reader, I don’t care if the listings in the directory are sponsored or not. I *do* care whether they’re complete. Well, newsprint is expensive, but bytes are cheap. So how about giving every one of the venues a basic free listing (as part of the newsgathering I’m paying for), and let ’em pay if they want enhancements?

    But that means re-thinking what they’re doing, and I see very little of that.

    I won’t touch on the “public funding” argument, except to say that it’s not going to happen. The *best* you might get is not-for-profit status, and I wouldn’t base my future plans on getting even that.

  • John

    I see three basic ALREADY WORKING b-plans out there.

    Economist/Journal: For newspapers or magazines with lots of their own or especially valuable content, to have a partially-freely-available online page. The online page is completely available, as a 1st-class citizen, to subscribers. Interestingly, the Economist has different rates for print and online subscribers. I subscribe to the Ecnomist.

    Commercial-gateway: has been doing this successfully for awhile, and now NYT is, too, I think (at least, they’re trying). Each day, you have to watch an ad to read the site. You have to subscribe to read the site. They’ve always been online-only, and have various associate blog/comment systems.

    Newspaper-style online daily: So far, my favorite example is the Washington Post. They make you register (and, unlike other papers, haven’t timed out or otherwise lost my identity). They have advertising above and to the side of columns. All articles have comment pages, they have several blogs, and regular chats with interesting people. I’ve always felt they were ahead online, especially compared to the hapless NYT. I think they have alot of deals of various kinds going, which may help their bottom line.

    Horror-story: Bad examples are also good, as I see it. Mine is of the NYT, the gold standard of the pre-online era. They had a web page later than many papers, and it was terrible. For many years, it was hard to read, all the news fit to read on the web was a handful of technical stories. Later, they added a leetle more stuff, mostly about New York unions, yippee. Now they’ve added ads and seem to ‘most all their content online. But they’re still having problems. The salon-style gateway commercial has never actually worked on my computer – I have to use the click-through link (at least they provide that). And, they’ve made their opinion section the heart of the revenue access section, which is dumb becuase that’s what blogs are best at, meaning they’re trying to get money for something available better for free elsewhere.

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  • newspapers are on the brim of closing, for 2 reasons:
    1. informations newspapers provide are old – at least 12 hours for daily newspapers
    2. advertisers are constantly turning towards cheaper and modifiable internet advertising