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!