To Eric Schmidt: What happened to ‘Don’t Be Evil’?

By Steve Outing

I’ve tried to make the case in the last couple of blog posts that it’s in Google’s interest to share ad revenues with news providers, by opening up Google News fully to advertising and offering a story-clickthrough-based rev-share program for participating publishers tracked by the service. Without throwing a good-sized financial bone at the news folks, putting more ads on Google News (there are very few currently) will create an uproar among news companies and give Google a black eye that will tarnish the company’s golden reputation.

I haven’t had the chance to meet or interview CEO Eric Schmidt (working on it), but seeing his public speeches I’ve generally had a good feeling about the guy. But after reading New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s column on interviewing Schmidt, “Dinosaur at the Gate,” I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll end up with a Bill Gates reputation. (That’s Gates the ruthless businessman before he turned to philanthropy.)

Writes Dowd:

“Why can’t Google, which likes to see itself as a ‘Don’t Be Evil’ benevolent force in society, just write us a big check for using our stories, so we can keep checks and balances alive and continue to provide the search engine with our stories? After all, Schmidt acknowledges that a lot of what’s on the Internet is ‘a sewer.’ He told me people don’t come to Google for ‘crap,’ but for what’s ‘useful.’

“He declines to pony up money, noting that newspapers could opt out of giving their content to Google free and adding, ‘We actually like making our own money for obviously good capitalist reasons.’

“He says: ‘The best way to get out of this is to invent a new product. That’s the way Google thinks. Incumbents very seldom invent the future.'”

Dowd didn’t ask the question the way I would have, but many of her commenters on that column got the point right. Wrote one Dowd reader:

“Google should somehow partner with the content providers not out of charity but because they won’t have anything worthwhile to search for in a few years if they don’t fork over some of their profits.”

And another…

“News, analysis, opinions, etc. need to be created on an ongoing basis. If as a consequence of Google not sharing any revenues with newspapers, the latter cannot operate any longer, then in essence Google would have slayed the goose that lay the proverbial golden egg.”

As I’ve said in my last two blog items, it’s in Google shareholders’ interest for the company to share its ad revenues with news providers. (And I don’t mean only newspapers and other big media companies; such a program as I’ve proposed would cover even the tiny new-media start-up news sites that Google News tracks and links to.) Schmidt’s unwillingness to come up with a mutually beneficial sharing strategy is just about to push the best journalism behind pay walls, a panicking-publisher movement that appears unstoppable. That’s not exactly in Google shareholders’ best interest.

So what’s the deal, Mr. Schmidt? Have you deleted Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra from the corporate mission statement? Because by not helping maintain a strong press (and this has NOTHING to do with saving newsPAPERS; it’s about saving quality journalism), you’re allowing a once strong watchdog press to lose its fangs.

This isn’t about charity to news companies that didn’t have the smarts to reinvent themselves for the digital media era. It’s about turning one of Google’s assets, Google News, into a profit center that also happens to serve a public good: financially supporting news organizations from big to small.

If Schmidt has his way, as expressed to Dowd, it’s not just dinosaur media like newspapers that will suffer. The news entities being formed today to replace newspapers will have less of a chance of making it, because there’s not enough advertising money to go around (and Google grabs so much of it now).

Schmidt told the Newspaper Association of America recently, “Let me just say precisely: It’s a sewer out there.” So I guess he’s willing to allow pissed-off and scared news executives to put the quality content of theirs that Google News tracks to go behind pay walls and the content universe that Google News tracks to get a bit smellier, rather than come up with a plan that prevents that and helps to reverse a journalism (NOT just a newspaper) crisis.

C’mon, Mr. Schmidt, do the right thing. Don’t be evil. It’s even in your best interest!

(Note: I have specifically suggested that a news-provider revenue-share program be limited to Google News, because it tracks a limited and select number of news providers. Sharing revenues on Google.com web searches that lead people to news sites is more troubling; it could mean that all manner of websites want their cut. Let’s not go there just now.)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

41 Responses to "To Eric Schmidt: What happened to ‘Don’t Be Evil’?"

  1. Graham
    Graham 8 years ago .Reply

    Your note at bottom is revealing.

    You argue that newspapers deserve special treatment. The newspaper business is indeed special in that its products are disproportionately seen as a public good, but if that’s the reason for giving money then there are other public goods out there.

    You also argue that Google should do this for its own good. If that’s the case, it should invest in a wide range of content creation that creates material people would search for.

    The principle behind your argument is not to support the public good, but rather to prop up one kind of public good. I really value the good newspapers provide, and I have lots of friends who depend on their survival for employment. I just wish the arguments for saving their jobs were less fixated on the specific businesses and the specific form of public good production.

  2. Josh Young
    Josh Young 8 years ago .Reply

    Do you really think that Google News could generate sufficient profit to prop up not just a handful of newspapers but all the newspapers it links to? I haven’t seen any great estimates of what profit Google News could generate if Google fully exploited its potential to carry ads, but it very probably insufficient to help much at all.

    The idea that profit-sharing from Google News could tip the balance without other changes, including “unthinkable” changes in comparison to which this kind of subsidy would be trivial, just isn’t credible.

    (Note as well that the $100MM figure sometimes thrown around couldn’t even be counted on as a base since it almost certainly involves revenues from google.com, which you’re ruling out.)

    It’s also worth mentioning that no one actually really loves Google News anyhow. Just by way of anecdotal evidence: its traffic is only a fraction of that of Yahoo News.

    By the way, “Don’t be evil” is Paul Bucheit’s phrase, not Larry and Sergey’s:

    http://paulbuchheit.blogspot.com/2007/06/quick-dbe.html

  3. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Graham: Wait a minute! I tried to be expressly clear that this is about supporting watchdog journalism in all its forms, whether done by a 150-year-old newspaper’s website or a digital-only start-up like VoiceofSanDiego.com or a news blogger. Newspapers don’t get special Google treatment in my mind.

    As to my note at the bottom, Google News is a targeted service; a program for the limited number of news providers tracked by GN is doable. Applying it to Google.com searches: lots of tricky issues there and probably impossible to implement, nor would it be in Google shareholders’ interest.

    However, if Google had a service called “Google Non-profit” that only searched non-profit organizations, the same sort of logic could apply to support a revenue-share for ads on that niche search service: support a public good and bring in more profit to Google.

  4. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Josh: I’ve long said that supporting most significant digital news operations will take many revenue streams. If this Google News fantasy scheme came true, it would be but one. I also like Kachingle.com’s voluntary monthly donation scheme to support all manner of content providers online. Online news publishers will get better at advertising over time. I am not suggesting that Google alone will save journalism by following my suggestions. But I bet in aggregate, it could fund the rehiring of quite a number of laid-off journalists.

    Yahoo News is a different animal, since it pays for its content; Google News doesn’t since it’s just scraping headlines, blurbs and links.

  5. Graham
    Graham 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve: I read right past your parenthetical about news startups. Mea culpa! I still find it difficult to see the principle, though. Part of the problem many have identified is that newspapers subsidize their public good journalism work with sports, leisure, etc. I would also tend to think of the classifieds and the old delivery model as a public good in themselves until they were supplanted; it can be good to have everyone at least partly, literally, on the same page. If you buy Robert Putnam and others’ views on social capital and civil society, the news is only part of the good of a newspaper.

    If google were to invest in content creation, however, wouldn’t it want to get straight to the good part? Funding a city hall reporter would be a no brainer, but what of the rest if the inefficient newsroom? Should google invest to prop up redundancy in the movie review business? If I were then I would demand changes in the way things are done.

    Time for dinner.

  6. Zac Echola
    Zac Echola 8 years ago .Reply

    Your posts on this matter, particularly relating to Google, are becoming increasingly obnoxious, to say nothing of their intellectual dishonesty.

    You cop out at the end of your post with your note and I don’t think you should be let off the hook.

    In this post you quite plainly state that because Google’s mission is ‘Do No Evil’ and they will not openly and specifically financially support the newspaper industry, that makes them evil.

    You didn’t bother defining evil, but I gather your meaning to be something along the lines of “Evil is not financially supporting an industry that is failing, even if that industry is required for a strong democracy.”

    You make the assumption that because Google makes its money by indexing news sites, it owes something to those news sites. By that same token, does Google also owe something to every other site on the Web in their index? If “it’s a sewer out there” (a quote you used without mentioning Schmidt also talked about how they treat every industry equally in that same speech), is that supposed to mean that only newspapers aren’t sewers? If not that, do you posit that Google only directly financially support sites that are not sewers? Who gets to decide that sort of collusion?

    Getting back to the strong democracy argument: Do you honestly believe that only newspapers and long-standing and professional news organizations can act as a free press? Do you believe that no one else is capable to fill that role? How do you account for countless watchdog groups, public media, professional bloggers, and many other groups and individuals that fill the roles in the public interest?

    Let’s get to your argument that revenue-share be limited to Google News. Isn’t Google News already a tip of the hat to news providers, which is a privilege few other industries get from Google (concessions like first click free were available to mainstream media for years before the general public had access to it)? What if Google decided to shut down News and instead only allow people to find News through the general index? Should they still pay news providers? Should they pay everyone who happens to be indexed?

    Aren’t news sites already working with Google for revenue sharing through Google AdSense? User goes to News, clicks a link and is served an ad from Google–on the news site, not on Google.

    And those are just a few questions I have. I have plenty more that are related to even broader points of argument. Questions like: Why Google? Why not twitter or Facebook or Yahoo?

    What is Google feasibly losing if a few dozen, or even several hundred news sites block out Google crawlers? By most estimates There AT LEAST 150 million Web sites out there.

    Here’s my conclusion. There’s plenty of advertising money available to support news Web sites. In fact, many very large newsrooms can be supported entirely by their digital revenue.

    But the money available will not also save the printed product, which is really the issue here.

    Newspapers, or dinosaurs, or whatever you want to call them never bothered making big investments in the Web. There are plenty of reasons, but they did so at the detriment of their bottom line. It’s exactly what Schmidt talked about in his speech: There was no second act. There was no concerted effort to smartly grow online revenue, at least not until the bottom completely fell out on the rest of their business model.

    You say “this isn’t about charity to news companies that didn’t have the smarts to reinvent themselves for the digital media era” but that argument about charity is just a red herring. Your argument essentially boils down to Google paying news providers a larger revenue share than the rest of the Web–and that news providers, defined exclusively by Google in the shadows, get special treatment above and beyond AdSense.

    Now, put that way, how is that beneficial to Google’s shareholders? How is that beneficial to a strong democracy?

  7. Ryan Tate
    Ryan Tate 8 years ago .Reply

    Wait, what? First you were making a rational (if, IMHO, misguided) argument about it being smart for Google News to license content it already has fair use rights to.

    Now you’re saying they’re _evil_ if they don’t cut a check to your industry?

    Don’t think you’ve established that. At all.

  8. Josh Young
    Josh Young 8 years ago .Reply

    Actually, Google does pay for content to which Google News links. In fact, it pays the AP to host its content:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/technology/internet/08google.html

    I don’t mind “fantasy” scenarios, but I do mind blatant factual errors. And I really mind being misinterpreted–having my argument taken for a straw man. I didn’t claim that you suggested “that Google alone will save journalism.” I’m claiming revenue sharing from Google News alone–which, if we’re being honest, we’ll admit that very few people really like–won’t help much more than trivially.

  9. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Graham: Google won’t invest in content creation, as Schmidt has said many times; he doesn’t want to become a media company. So I’m not saying that Google should “invest” in any news company or invest in “news” at all. I’m saying that it could make the *choice* to support online news producers (of all types) if it wanted to, just as it supports all manner of websites with revenue from AdSense. In both cases, Google makes money while supporting the careers and businesses of others.

  10. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Josh: I goofed and thanks for pointing it out. Forgot that Google does pay AP millions annually — but not other news providers.

    You wrote in your 1st comment: “The idea that profit-sharing from Google News could tip the balance without other changes, including “unthinkable” changes in comparison to which this kind of subsidy would be trivial, just isn’t credible.” … Yes, I did interpret that as you suggesting I believed that Google alone could turn things around for the news industry, which I don’t believe.

    I disagree on the impact Google News shared revenue could have. Especially if Google and news providers cooperate, they could increase usage of Google News, for example by original sources of stories identifying themselves as such, so that those stories get played highest and not another site’s repeat or paraphrasing of the original. That would make GN a better news search engine; ergo, more users, more ad revenue.

  11. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Ryan: I am NOT saying that Google is evil if they don’t cut a check to newspapers. I’m not saying Google would or should “license” news content (other than AP’s which it already does). And I’m not saying the Google should support the newspaper industry; I’m saying I’d like it to support all online news providers, from the lone blogger to the NY Times. (That is, any news source that Google itself selects to be included in Google News, which is limited. My blog is not in Google News, for example; it is in Google Blogsearch.) I’m saying there’s a crisis in journalism and I’d like Google to help, since it can, and since it would benefit at the same time. I’m saying that while newspapers are in the worst shape now and getting all the headlines, every person and entity in the news landscape, new and old, needs help — old news companies and new ones now being created.

    “Evil” is probably too strong a word, but I used it because it’s Google’s motto. A better, more reasonable way to phrase it would be: Google is in a position to alleviate somewhat the crisis that we face in journalism, and I believe that since it would also benefit itself by turning on the Google News ad spigot and sharing revenue with ALL news providers, it would be acting more like a “Microsoft” than a “Google” if it chose to not share Google News ad revenues with new and old news providers.

  12. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Zac: Sorry you find me obnoxious, but my interests are in strengthening the news media and halting its slide, which includes newspapers and newly emerging online news providers and bloggers.

    “Intellectual dishonesty”? I have the sense you skimmed my blog item and didn’t really catch what I was saying.

    You wrote: “You make the assumption that because Google makes its money by indexing news sites, it owes something to those news sites.” I did NOT make that assumption. Google owes the news industry nothing; that’s someone else’s argument. I make the assumption that Google is a company that wants to make a profit while at the same time being “good” and doing “good” for its customers and the planet. (Hence the Don’t Be Evil motto.) Journalism is in trouble, and that’s a threat to democracy (fewer watchdogs making it easier for dishonest politicians and businesses to get away with bad stuff undetected). If Google can help improve this situation while at the same time profiting itself, well yeah, I do think it has a moral imperative to do the right thing.

    “Does Google also owe something to every other site on the Web in their index?” … Again, it doesn’t “owe” anyone. Schmidt and Google’s board can make the decision to support some things and not others, though they always must act in shareholders’ interest. I say Google should support the news sector because it can, and because it will benefit shareholders. It could make the same decision about other sectors or groups, though for most the case to also benefit shareholders would be harder to make. News is different because you have a bunch of the most powerful (for now) media companies threatening to pull their content (or the best of it) out of Google News. That would not be good for Google shareholders, so it’s a rational decision to decide to share GN ad revenues instead of keeping them all, even though it’s within Google’s right to do so.

    “Do you honestly believe that only newspapers and long-standing and professional news organizations can act as a free press? Do you believe that no one else is capable to fill that role?” … No and no, and I didn’t say either! But for TODAY, all those emerging groups and entities that are performing in the role newspapers used to have to themselves aren’t big or strong enough to make up for the armies of journalists that have been laid off by newspapers and other old media. And if the newcomers can’t bring in enough revenue, then we end up much worse off than before. So, again, I’d like Google to help here, since it can, and can justify its decision to do so.

    “What if Google decided to shut down News and instead only allow people to find News through the general index? Should they still pay news providers? Should they pay everyone who happens to be indexed?” … Probably not. Seems to me it would be too messy for Google; it would be hammered by every interest group saying, “We want ours too!” Google ran Google News as beta for years with no ad revenue, presumably because it considers news a public good. It’s a rational corporate decision to share revenue with news providers.

    “Aren’t news sites already working with Google for revenue sharing through Google AdSense? User goes to News, clicks a link and is served an ad from Google–on the news site, not on Google.” … The problem is that for many people, seeing the headline and the blurb is enough; they scan the Google News National headlines page and don’t click through to any sites. Google does a wonderful service for news providers, no doubt, but the news folks can’t survive in the current environment. (And I mean that old and new news providers can’t do well, in significant part because Google has figured out how to grab such a big slice of the overall ad pie.)

    “What is Google feasibly losing if a few dozen, or even several hundred news sites block out Google crawlers? By most estimates There AT LEAST 150 million Web sites out there.” … Because it will lose what TODAY are the best news providers. 150 million websites is a meaningless number, since a tiny portion of them are high-quality news sources. If Google News lost NYTimes, WashPost, LATimes, Time.com, Newsweek.com, BusinessWeek.com and others (or lost the best stuff from those publishers), then GN is a weaker search engine.

    “Here’s my conclusion. There’s plenty of advertising money available to support news Web sites. In fact, many very large newsrooms can be supported entirely by their digital revenue.” … I could not disagree more if you’re talking about ad money. You just said there are at least 150 million websites, and most of them want some ad money. Google now gets lots of money that in the past media companies would have gotten; bloggers get a bunch; the entire “long tail” is getting online ad money. I do not believe you when you say that with the proliferation of competition that ads alone sold by a newsroom can support a substantial newsroom staff. A big newsroom capable of watchdogging a big city must have multiple significant revenue streams. (I’d like Google News to be one of them.)

    “But the money available will not also save the printed product, which is really the issue here.” … It’s not the issue for me. Though I started my career in print newspapers, I frankly won’t weep when they depart for good. The issue is saving journalism and saving the watchdog press, whatever distribution format they happen to use.

    “Your argument essentially boils down to Google paying news providers a larger revenue share than the rest of the Web.” … I suppose it does. But the consequence of not doing so for Google is that Google News isn’t worth much if the most credible news sources pull out and start charging for their content. That would suck for Google shareholders and it would suck for democracy.

    The wealth of free news that we’ve been getting on the web for the last decade is pretty damn good for democracy, I think. Think about Thomas Friedman of NYT, when his op-ed columns went behind the TimesSelect pay wall. He had a lot of influence in the Middle East, but TimesSelect essentially made him invisible there until NYT killed that program. I’d rather figure out how to make Friedman available to readers worldwide than lock him up again like it’s 1980.

  13. Jay Rosen
    Jay Rosen 8 years ago .Reply

    I read it as Google is being evil if it doesn’t support quality journalism.

    I’m not with you on this, Steve. But I see where you are going with Google News revenue and shareholder interests.

    What surprises me is your handling of Maureen Dowd. You seem to think that the way she does in her interviews is to ask the questions and then tell you what the interviewee said. I doubt it. Schmidt probably said tons of subtle and conciliatory things that are on the cutting room floor and the things in the column are what fit MoDo’s thesis– which you did not comment on. And what is that thesis? That Craigslist and Google “hijacked journalism.”

    Is that true, Steve? If it’s not true, why did she say it?

    It almost seems from reading this that you agree with Dowd on that. In any event, you are far too credulous about her interview. I understand that all you have to go on is what’s in the column, not on the cutting room floor, but that is exactly why you should not trust it. Especially if you don’t trust her conclusion, or is it an assumption? That Craig and Goog hijacked journalism and won’t give it back.

  14. FP
    FP 8 years ago .Reply

    If the current scenario is so awful for news publishers, let them block Google’s spider and be done with it. They don’t, because that traffic from Google is more valuable to them than they are to Google.

    If a number of publishers drop out of the index, traffic/money/opportunities will go to other publishers who will fill their place.

    It is absolutely not in the interests of Google shareholders for their investment to prop up failing companies like this. Paying out for news that isn’t interesting enough to generate clicks (i.e., the headline is enough) doesn’t encourage better content and it doesn’t return more revenue to the company which had the sense to build this service in the first place.

  15. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Jay: Of course I don’t think Google and Craigslist “hijacked” journalism in an “evil” way. (I didn’t read that into Dowd’s wordplay, either.) The situation we have today is what it is. Old-media execs’ decisions are the biggest part of why it “is.” I’m merely trying to come up with solutions. Google is in a position to partially solve some problems; I’m encouraging the company to do so.

    I was trying to make an impact by playing off Google’s Don’t Be Evil motto, but as I said earlier, “evil” is probably too strong.

    Point taken about Dowd’s interview. But I also watched Schmidt’s entire speech to NAA, and what he said jibed with how I interpreted MoDo. I think we read her column with different sets of eyes.

  16. […] commit suicide is not Google’s fault, its capitalism. By lwignall In his recent post “To Eric Schmidt: What happened to ‘Don’t Be Evil’?” Steve Outing asks why can’t the Google CEO offer some form of revenue to the now lost […]

  17. Tim Burden
    Tim Burden 8 years ago .Reply

    Come on, Jay, we’re trying to have a fight over Goog and Evil and you’re sniping about his interpretation of Dowd.

    Steve: you sir have lost your faith.

    You’ve lost your faith in the wisdom of the crowd when you say that Google should support one industry, and more particularly, some incumbents within an industry at the expense of others. Google should not decide who gets extra support and who doesn’t. They should do as they have always done with their search engine: decide merit on the basis of who is linking to things. That’s democracy in action, the very thing you so grandiosely say you are trying to save.

    Why, in particular, should Google do anything to help the incumbents, the very people who have driven the news business into its sorry state? That is exactly what you’re suggesting, when you list off NYT and WP as worthy of saving and leave out all the innovators and smaller players. Who says? You? Google? Who gets to be in this good ol’ boys club and how do others get in? You’ve lost your faith in democracy.

    You’ve lost your faith in journalism. When all those journalists are set free after the demise of the big institutions that employed them, do they, and journalism, whither up and die, or do they find new, more innovative ways to do journalism? Your plan to support the dinosaurs just prolongs the disruption, by giving a slight upper hand to the incumbents. I have faith that we will have better journalism for Google News to aggregate when it is freed of its current encumbrances.

    In fact, the moral imperative here is that Google NOT support, unfairly, some players in an industry over others. Let them earn their traffic the same as anyone else, and let them figure out how to monetize it. No bailouts. No good ol’ boys club. THAT would be evil.

  18. GS
    GS 8 years ago .Reply

    Mr Outing, under that criteria, shouldnt Google also charge newspapers for sending them so much traffic through searches? 60% of my readers come from searches done in Google’s search engine. TechCrunch just said 30% of theirs come from that same source. Newspapers must be around 25%. What do we owe Google?

  19. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    GS: Google could charge newspapers for sending them traffic, sure. But it would be a lousy business decision for them and allow a competitor search engine to finally catch up. The case I’m trying to make (apparently not very well) is that there’s a business case for Google to support the news industry. And by “news industry,” I mean old and new, traditional and non-traditional; I mean supporting every effort to produce news. Lots of my critics on this seem to think I’m saying Google should help newspapers out. I’m saying I’d like to see it support the entire news sector: what’s online now, and what’s coming next.

  20. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Tim: You wrote: “You’ve lost your faith in the wisdom of the crowd when you say that Google should support one industry, and more particularly, some incumbents within an industry at the expense of others.” … See my previous comment; I’m asking Google to support the entire news sector, and do not expect it to give special treatment to newspapers or other old media. If Schmidt were to follow my (apparently bizarre, based on all the criticism) advice, he and his company would support news and journalism in general, not “some incumbents at the expense of others.” If this were to happen, online consumers would vote with their clicks about who gets the most money. It well could turn out to be all the news newcomers, since newspapers especially have done a lousy job innovating. Google News will give precedence and highest rank to whoever does the best quality news. So I refute the charge that I’m asking Google to help out old media specifically.

    Eric Schmidt was quoted last year as saying that with so many traditional media companies struggling to make online ads work, “it’s a huge moral imperative to help here.” I’ve offered one way he could help. It has the side benefit of not only helping the traditional media companies but also the new untraditional ones, and improve its own bottom line.

    Alas, I seem to be the lone voice in the crowd who thinks this way.

  21. Working Reporter
    Working Reporter 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve:

    I’ve disagreed with you in the past, but I want to chime in with support this time before you get buried under a pile of naysayers (most of whom, I suspect, come from the consumption side of news and not the production side).

    It’s admirable that you are trying to get Google to see how it could benefit, in the long run, by helping content producers survive. I’ve long hoped for the emergence of “smart ads” where revenue would flow, in whole or in part, to content producers and not just to whatever site where the content happens to appear.

    I believe such a model of advertising is inevitable, and whoever creates it — thereby giving themselves some small part of that pie — will benefit enormously. There’s no reason Google and its shareholders can’t win that prize.

    That said, I have a quibble — one that I fear will irritate some of your other commenters and illustrate how modest your proposal actually is.

    My quibble is this: You want Google to do this voluntarily. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

    Like your preference for Kachingle over pay walls, you prefer a model where readers or aggregators support journalism because it’s in their interests, not because they have no choice. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I don’t think that’s how people work.

    Until a critical mass of content producers decide to charge for at least their most distinctive content, and until those content producers’ lawyers start talking to Google about different interpretations of “fair use” than the one that company now recognizes, I don’t see this problem getting solved.

    I’d much prefer it if everybody decided it was in their own interests to support quality journalism. But I believe that when offered a choice between free pie and dollar pie, most people will go for the free pie every time. But the fact that people prefer free pie doesn’t mean they won’t pay for pie — it just means they would rather not.

    Free and voluntary have their place in the content universe, to be sure. But in the long run, I can’t think of many content creating businesses that survive without finding a price point that people are willing to pay and then requiring them to pay that price.

    Newspapers have escaped that logic in the past only through monopoly control of print advertising; that monopoly has broken, and we have to find new revenue streams.

    As you note, this is a problem not just for newspapers, but for anybody seeking to make money creating digital content — citizen journalists, musicians, photographers, everybody needs to find new revenue streams to supplement ad revenue.

    I’ll cheer if those streams manifest on their own and voluntarily. But I’ll be very, very surprised.

  22. Tim Burden
    Tim Burden 8 years ago .Reply

    “Google News will give precedence and highest rank to whoever does the best quality news. So I refute the charge that I’m asking Google to help out old media specifically.”

    First, Steve, you listed them off: “If Google News lost NYTimes, WashPost, LATimes, Time.com, Newsweek.com, BusinessWeek.com and others (or lost the best stuff from those publishers), then GN is a weaker search engine,” you said.

    Those are old media, as far as I can tell. And you make a judgment that they are “high-quality sources.”

    Second, Google does not and should not give precedence to “whoever does the best quality news.” Who decides? Google? How it actually works is that precedence is given to those who get the most incoming links (all other things being equal). The people vote. Other sites vote.

    Who gets to decide who gets to be in the pool of sites GN tracks? Google does, at present. But when you start talking about dishing out special money on that basis, then I want to know how I get to be in the club.

    Google search shares out PageRank and therefore clicks based on merit, the merit of having incoming links. It’s up to content providers to manage and monetize those clicks.

    The difference in GN is that it’s limited to a special pool, and freshness is also factored in. Because freshness matters, incoming links to the specific stories cannot matter. GN therefore must weight them in a different manner, presumably by the overall PageRank of the site that hosts the story.

    Your plan, therefore, would in a very overt and specific way, show financial favouritism toward incumbents. I.e. old media.

  23. Jeff Green
    Jeff Green 8 years ago .Reply

    I’m in the newspaper industry and even I am tired of our endless hand wringing. We made a bad business decision as an industry to make the web free to readers. Let’s just get on with making some or all of our sites paid. If our content is not compelling enough and people refuse to pay, we are no worse off than we are today, but at least we tried something.

  24. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Jeff: The simple answer to your question (IMO) is that it’s been tried over and over again by the newspaper industry for more than a decade, and failed. The few papers that still choose to continue with a paid-wall model (with the exception of WSJ.com) have not grown much and the print product remains the core of their businesses.

    It’s increasingly looking like you’ll get your wish. If I’m right it will hasten newspapers’ demise, so we will have tried something (repeated, actually) and become worse off.

  25. Bradley J. Fikes
    Bradley J. Fikes 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve,
    I’m saying I’d like to see it support the entire news sector: what’s online now, and what’s coming next.

    Yes, and I’d like Google to give me $100 million so I’d be set for life. At least I recognize my fantasy for what it is. Presuming to tell Google that subsidizing news organizations is in its shareholders’ interest is just as laughable in its self-serving transparency. You’ve made a lot of sense before, but now you’re seriously out of touch with reality.

    I’m a reporter, and like Jeff Green, I’m sick of the media’s entitlement mentality.

  26. Paul
    Paul 8 years ago .Reply

    This is another in a series of old-news pleas that can be summed up like this: “Help us before we drive off the cliff! We don’t know how to turn the wheel and don’t care to learn!”

    On a more specific point:
    You recognize that Google could charge newspapers for the traffic it sends them, though you say it would be a bad idea. Still, you concede there is benefit to the newspapers of Google links. You seem to premise your whole argument on the notion that Google profits more from using news content than the news sites do from Google’s links. What proof do you have of this? Because if the balance falls the other way, your whole argument falls apart. Maybe the news orgs should shut up and thank the Goog for the largesse it already grants.

  27. Richard Gingras
    Richard Gingras 8 years ago .Reply

    Unfortunately many of these discussions about what might best be done to create a healthy future for journalism start with the fallacious canard that Google is “stealing” newspaper content or that it “profit(s) so profligately from newspaper content.” Hearing such claims coming from the mouths of journalists (Dowd and others) is a sad disservice to journalism itself. It’s bad reporting and they should be called to task for it. Please, get the facts straight!

    Over the years various newspapers have told Google News to stop crawling their sites — it’s a simple and publicly available protocol they can execute on their sites without talking to Google. Invariably those newspapers reverse that decision upon realizing the significant amount of incoming traffic they have lost as a result.

    The point is there is a beneficial quid pro quo between content sites and search engines.

    The reason for the decline of newspapers is simply this: the internet put a printing press in everyone’s hands. Craig Newmark took one and created Craigslist, etc, etc, etc. Thus newspaper control over their distribution model and pricing was broken and with it their business models. So be it.

    The reason why journalism will have a great and healthy future is the same reason: the internet put a printing press in everyone’s hands. Yes, we will see a more chaotic environment, at least for near future. But good journalism will happen. New models will evolve. You don’t have to look very far to see some of that already already come into being — from the data mining of Everyblock to the investigative efforts of Talking Points Memo.

  28. Tom Anderson
    Tom Anderson 8 years ago .Reply

    Shoveling money at newspapers expecting the publisher to share the money with his reporters sounds as dumb to me as shoveling money at dictators and expecting them to share it with their subjects. Newspapers don’t have a right to that revenue. Did they demand a cut from TV news stations that just read newspaper copy on the air? Why not? Did newspapers pay the town criers that newspapers replaced? There’s no logic in this argument at all, just a love of newspapers and a desire for some deep pockets to save papers from their publishers’ greed.

  29. Luke Wignall
    Luke Wignall 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve, we cross paths again. Thank you for bring Dowd’s op ed piece to my attention, it was the exact example, in my mind, of the sort of lemming behavior that I think exists in the Journalism dinosaur crowd. Enough so I went on a tear over her words on http://fernsehtek.wordpress.com, and then dragged Jay Rosen into it asking what is his school doing to prepare journalism students differently today then they were say five or ten years ago, and what will the next several years do to change that further.

    I simply do not see how the core of journalism is going to be any different, but the means used to promote, market, hold an audience will have to be very different. The Dowd’s of the world have the most amazing set of blinders on, and for some reason that gets under my skin…

  30. FP
    FP 8 years ago .Reply

    You know, I’m yet to really see a newer media site go after Google to change the way they aggregate content. Or a young band work against the changes in music distribution rather than find a way to go with the flow.

    Any news publisher could’ve added more aggregation of third-party content to their own sites to minimise too much leaking of traffic to superior indexes, just like they could’ve realised that online classifieds (with the benefit of being editable, realtime and searchable) were going to absolutely trounce paper classifieds. But they didn’t

    I don’t use Google News, but I find the stories I read via Slashdot (links, summaries and comments), Hacker News (links with some comments), Ars Technica (often custom content), various blogs (usually short form content), etc. If I visit the website of my local daily, it’s rare that I will read more than a couple of stories because most of what they put up is trivial gossip, stale, or bland. And there is virtually no value in the reader comments because moderation (especially promoting good comments) does not exist, there are few identities taking responsibility for the junk they post, and there is no guidance from community owners.

  31. Ryan Tate
    Ryan Tate 8 years ago .Reply

    What you wrote in your last comment to me is for the most part reasonable, but it does’t explain the use of “evil” in your headline or in your post where you write, “Have you deleted Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ mantra from the corporate mission statement?”

    I guess I hear your overall point but it’s oversold. Which is slightly evil ;->

  32. Paul
    Paul 8 years ago .Reply

    I read Ms. Dowd’s column, and thought essentially the same thing as you — at first. But while the arrogance of stating, in effect, “go invent something,” drives me nuts (and reminds me of how sweet karma can be), I find that I do have to agree with Schmidt.

    Newspapers saw this coming. Even before HTML 1.0 was ratified, when I worked at a small-town newspaper, we talked about what *could* happen if we charged for online content. I know other newspapers were having similar discussions.

    OK, so, it’s all in the past; water under the bridge. The point is, I don’t think retroactively charging major aggregators is either useful or constructive. It stinks to think that Google, Yahoo and others are awash in money off of others’ work, but that’s the path we allowed more than 15 years ago.

    So, I think innovation is the only answer. Pool all of our news resources — all of them, from small-town to major daily papers — into a “union” of trade publications. Charge individuals one price; charge aggregation services another. Take the money and push through digital ink technology. Let Google start their own AP/UPI/Reuters, if they wish.

  33. […] sites that Google News tracks and links to.) Schmidt’s unwillingness to come up with a …[…] Google Investor Relations – Google Announces First Quarter 2009 […]

  34. […] sites that Google News tracks and links to.) Schmidt’s unwillingness to come up with a …[…] Official Google Webmaster Central Blog: One-line […]

  35. Bradley J. Fikes
    Bradley J. Fikes 8 years ago .Reply

    Pool all of our news resources — all of them, from small-town to major daily papers — into a “union” of trade publications.

    That’s not innovation; that’s the same old attempt to deny the reality of the Internet. It simply will not work. There is unlimited competition on the Web, so attempts to impose a print-like monopoly price inevitably will fail.

    In the extremely unlikely event that all newspapers banded together to charge for content, most of the audience would flee to news providers that didn’t charge, such as radio and television stations, Web-only news sources, and blogs.

    It amazes me that so many journalists, who are supposed to have a flinty-eyed view of reality, can’t apply that skepticism to their own industry.

  36. […] couple of weeks with newspaper people alternatively blaming Google for the industry’s problems or begging Google to come to their […]

  37. Paul
    Paul 8 years ago .Reply

    There are a couple massive flaws in the logic of the save-the-newspapers crowd. Until we get past them, there will never be a satisfactory solution.

    First, the notion that “we should have charged when we had the chance” is beyond crazy. The Internet is attractive because it makes it easy to share information, so trying to get in the way of that is a guaranteed failure, if you want to be online. Witness RIAA. Special pubs can do it, but mainstream, uh uh. Won’t work now, wouldn’t have worked then, because it would only take the first org giving away to break the dam and have everyone race for the bottom. There’s a reason newsstand prices are so low.

    Second, this idea that someone else is profiting from another’s work is also unfounded. Profit does and can go both ways. There’s enough money for everyone, but you have to play the game to get some, not just stamp your feet and demand.

    Finally, readers have never paid for content, advertisers did, so news orgs that think they’ve lost some income stream by giving content away are operating in an imaginary economy. Ever think what your paper’s cover price woulda been if there were no ads inside? How many people would have shelled out maybe $5 a day to get your reporting? Or even $1 a day for a little bit of unique local and a whole lotta wire and fluff and commodity data? Would the local radio or TV station stand for that, or would they undercut you with free-over-the-air? Oh, they did? But that’s another story …

    To say Google is making money off your work is analagous to complaining those damned print advertisers were making money off your content. Or for the advertisers complaining that newspapers taking their profit. Or for the printers to complain that news execs, advertisers and even well-paid journalists (there have been a few) were making money off the printers’ efforts. It’s all true, to some extent, but beside the point.

    No one complained about the old model because there was plenty of money and everyone understood how to get some. Newspapers actually profited unjustly from the old model because they stood in the way of the natural tendency for the free flow of information. Gatekeeper, sure, media, yup, but tollbooth, too, and society has a way of breaking down barriers when their economically inefficient.

    Now there’s a new model, disintermediated, so news orgs will have to figure out how to get theirs. If they create unique, high-value targeted content that no one else can match, they might be able to charge, within that niche. If they create connections and context, they might be able to go back to ad-support by aggregating community. Maybe they can create other options, but no one’s going to do it for them. No one created profit for Google, they just built a better mousetrap.

    As for journalism being a public good that society must find a way to support, get in line. Teachers are first. Then nurses. Cops, firemen, the list goes on. You can decide, in your own view, where journalists belong, but the point is, they ain’t first, there is no societal crisis because newspapers are laying off reporters, and I say this as a reporter who has been laid off recently.

    Time to reinvent ourselves. To get value, create value.

  38. Barbara Phillips Long
    Barbara Phillips Long 8 years ago .Reply

    Payments from Google News will probably not help rural newspapers.

    Certainly the “wisdom of the crowd” won’t help rural newspapers, because stories in the national media will rise to the top because they appeal to many readers across the United States and some outside it, rather than one U.S. county or town.

    Small communities need watchdog journalism, too. The New York Times isn’t going to supply such journalism, and other urban papers and Web sites are unlikely to supply it either.

    When will discussions of the future of journalism and possible business models include a serious discussion of the future of journalism in rural areas, small suburban communities, and impoverished communities of any size?

  39. […] No one’s asking for a blank check or a free ride at the papers I’ve seen. This isn’t Wall Street. They’re just looking for a fair shake — from Google. […]

  40. Ahmed
    Ahmed 7 years ago .Reply

    Hi, it’s totally an innovation, and to me it not wrong too.
    I won’t mind if Google start its own news agencies too.
    Only concern is to provide impartial view that’s all.

  41. Robert W
    Robert W 6 years ago .Reply

    Though I take my hat off to a company which has been sooo successful, Google is evil and will hopefully be re-privatised into smaller companies, which will offer much more choice and more jobs and be less evil.

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