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The story of the year: newspapers and the Internet


By: Scott Bradner


As the year winds down I've been trying to decide what way to summarize the year Internet-wise.  There were many topics that floated through the year but it seems to me that the continuing saga of the failure of the news business to come to grips with the Internet 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 but most of it seems to be parts of the news business implicitly admitting that they do not have the faintest idea of how to deal with the Internet.  This puts them in about the same position as other parts of the copyright biz including movies and music.


This is not a new phenomenon -- it is now almost 5 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? http://  There have been other lawsuits and lots of bold talk since.  Mostly some of the newspapers say the want Google to pay them for listing headlines and small snippets of news articles in Google news.


The newspapers threaten to block Google from the newspaper sites if Google refuses to pay.  There has been a lot of talk but not all that much action.  It would be trivial for a newspaper site to actually 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 pull the trigger and ban Google their readership is likely to tank since no one will know what is on their site and they do not have enough actual subscribers to their services to make up for the lost readership.  In Germany, the newspapers are asking for a new 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 will be findable.


The logic, if one is to dignify the thought process with that term, 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 any more.


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 me to be a path other than advertising for the news business.  But, if they get out of 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 a the expense of figuring a path forward but I did not ask for a University opinion on Google phobia and the above view is my own.