Sunday, December 6, 2009

About Google, Change, and News

"Nothing endures but change."
(Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC)

Or, 'change happens: Deal with it.'

"UPDATE 1-Google CEO says not to blame for news media woes"
Reuters (December 3, 2009)
"News search ads a "tiny fraction" of Google revenue
"Publishers need to provide free and paid access to news (Adds more comments from Schmidt and background)

"Google Inc (GOOG.O) is not to blame for the news industry's problems but is committed to playing a role in helping struggling publishers survive the transition to the online age, CEO Eric Schmidt said.

"Publishers need to explore new ways to make money from news on the Web, including the traditional advertising-based model as well as subscription-based access to content, Schmidt wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

" 'With dwindling revenue and diminished resources, frustrated newspaper executives are looking for someone to blame,' he wrote in the article published on Thursday...."

"...Developing new technology that makes it easier to reach readers and keeps readers engaged longer will be important for publishers, he said.

"Google is the world's largest search engine with roughly $22 billion in annual revenue...."

And traditional, old-school ink-on-paper newspapers aren't doing as well as they were, back in the sixties and seventies.

'Obviously' someone's to blame. Equally 'obviously,' from the editors' point of view, it can't possibly be their loyalty to late-19th and early-20th century information technology. And, it seems to me, philosophies. Human nature being what it is, it's easier to feel that it's the fault of these here newfangled upstarts. Like Google. Instead of taking a long, hard look at what's happened since the "good old days."

Maybe I'm being unfair.

On the other hand, I've been reading the news pretty regularly for over forty years. And, unlike what seems to be the case for at least some papers, I've noticed that - metaphorically speaking - Woodstock is history. This quite simply isn't the sixties any more. It isn't even the seventies.

These days I use Google extensively. I'd be happy to use the indexing and search routines that many information providers - news and otherwise - make available. Problem is, sometimes they simply don't work. And when they do, they're typically nowhere near as effective as the Google software.

No surprises there. Google got to be the 800-pound gorilla of the search services because it works. Other services, like Yahoo!, have their fans. And, they do a pretty good job. 'Nuf said.

Here's a link to that Wall Street Journal op-ed, and an excerpt:

"How Google Can Help Newspapers"
Opinion, The Wall Street Journal (December 3, 2009)
"Video didn't kill the radio star, and the Internet won't destroy news organizations. It will foster a new, digital business model"

"It's the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load.

"Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests. I zip through a health story in The Wall Street Journal and a piece about Iraq from Egypt's Al Gomhuria, translated automatically from Arabic to English. I tap my finger on the screen, telling the computer brains underneath it got this suggestion right.

"Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I'd never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.

"This is a long way from where we are today. The current technology - in this case the distinguished newspaper you are now reading - may be relatively old, but it is a model of simplicity and speed compared with the online news experience today...."

As Google's CEO, Mr. Schmidt obviously has a rather well-defined point of view in this matter. Even so, I think he makes some good points.

I'm inclined to think, though, that there's more to the changing face of how people get their news, than new technology.

Traditional, old-school news media in America is, in my view, still operating under the assumptions that Yankee gentlemen of the New England states in general, and the upper crust of New York City in particular, are the standard-bearers of American culture.

Although traditional news and entertainment media have rather magnanimously consented to recognize the newer centers of culture, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, as worthy of note - a home town paper like The New York Times is able to present itself as America's 'newspaper of record.' And be taken seriously by the editors of other papers. (October 21, 2008, in another blog)

Again, maybe I'm being unfair. But I don't think so.

Change is always an awkward process - and often difficult. But, it happens. We're going through a lot of change these days. I'm a bit sympathetic with people whose world revolves around technologies and assumptions of past generations. I'm about as old as some old-school editors and publishers, and remember when television network news was the up-and-coming new power in the culture.

But, happily for me, I didn't get stuck in a traditional career.

That made it possible for me to pay attention to new technologies, among other things. Someone who's been stuck in an office in lower Manhattan, running a good old-fashioned news department wouldn't have had my opportunities.

This isn't Very Apathetic: What Gives?

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