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Story of the year: Newspapers and the Internet


Will telling Google to go away save newspapers?


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner, Network World

December 14, 2009 11:35 AM ET

As the year winds down I've been trying to decide how to summarize it Internet-wise. But it seems to me that the continuing saga of the news business symbolizes yet another year of close-to-terminal, Internet-induced confusion for traditional businesses -- or, maybe, panic.


The anti-Google rhetoric in parts of the news business has been growing in intensity over the last year or so, and most of it seems to be parts of the news business implicitly admitting that it does not have the faintest idea of how to deal with the Internet. This puts it in about the same position as other parts of the copyright business, including movies and music.


This is not a new phenomenon -- it has been almost five years since the French news service Agence France Presse (AFP) sued Google for helping direct readers to their Web sites. (See Refusal, ignorance, arrogance or PR?) There have been other lawsuits and lots of bold talk since.


Some newspapers say they want Google to pay them for listing headlines and small snippets of articles in Google news. The newspapers threaten to block Google from their sites if it refuses.


There has been a lot of talk, but not much action. It would be trivial for a newspaper site to tell Google to stay out, a simple robots.txt file will do that. But just maybe the newspaper sites understand, at least at some level, that Google actually helps them. Or maybe they understand that if just some newspapers ban Google then their readership will likely tank because no one will know what is on their site and they will not have enough actual subscribers to their services to make up for lost readership.


In Germany, the newspapers are asking for a law that would make the kind of linking Google does illegal. I guess the logic is that if it's illegal all news sites will be forced to join in the Google blocking, whether they want to or not. Seems to me that such a law would be a great assist to German-language newspapers outside of Germany since they are the only ones that could be found.


The logic seems to be a throwback to the days when all news came via a physical paper. You subscribed to a paper and that was your news source. I doubt very much that this will be a successful ploy in an environment of tens of thousands of news sources and one in which at least as many politicians are undone by YouTube as by investigative journalism.


Reader loyalty to a particular publication is just not there anymore.


I am not one of those 'information wants to be free' folks. I do think that reporters need to be paid and that a YouTube-only news world would be chaos at best. At least for many decades the news business, on paper and on TV, as well as the broadcast entertainment business have been advertising supported (see Paying the piper). At this point, there does not seem to  be a path other than advertising for the news business. But, if they get out of the mode of blaming Google for all their woes, maybe someone else can see one.


Disclaimer: Harvard, as far as I know, does not teach students to obsess on blaming someone at the expense of figuring a path forward, but I did not ask for a university opinion on Google phobia. The above view is my own.


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