“Newspaper Killer” Google Wants to Help Preserve “News” Worth Searching For     Print Email

Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic are sick and seem to be dying. In the U.S., newspaper consumption has decreased by two-thirds in the last decade. The demise is partly blamed on “free news” available online. But, in fact, the actual information that appears online in blogs and sites of all kinds depends heavily on costly-to-run mainstream media. A Pew survey two years ago showed that nine-tenths of the “news” is produced by fewer than a dozen major outlets, most of them big newspapers with big journalistic staffs. Now even a prime “culprit” -- Google – seems to be drawing the smart conclusion and wanting to help preserve, if not newspapers, at least good reporting and news that it can use.

This apparent paradox is laid out by James Fallows in the June issue of the Atlantic Magazine. He explains that Google, the very villain of newspaper death by most accounts, is trying hard and investing millions to help save the news. Google claims it has strong self-interest in preserving the creation of news. If there were no reliable news, otherwise known as “content,” there would be less clicking and Googling.

So what is Google doing? It has deployed teams of talented engineers to diagnose the problem and peer into the future of what a revamped business model for news could be. Newspapers, says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, do not have a “demand” problem. They have a “business model” problem. While no one at Google expects print news (“the dead tree industry”) to remain in its current form for long, there are expectations that quality news-gathering can survive and thrive using all kinds of advanced online models designed. This optimistic view holds that the web can eventually convey news in a way that produces quality reporting – and at the same time makes money. For that purpose, Google is trying to work with newspapers to invent new models and test them.

Transition will not be easy. But the alternatives are not attractive for the media – and for democracy – on both sides of the Atlantic.

European Affairs