Why Google soars, and newspapers sink

By Steve Outing

Hint: It’s the leadership and corporate culture!

Check out this video of Google CEO Eric Schmidt being interviewed for WashingtonPost.com’s “On Leadership” series by Steven Pearlstein:

Wow. I hadn’t heard Schmidt talk about the Google corporate culture before, but watching this video interview made me realize why his company is so successful, and how the newspaper industry might be able to thrive if it adopted a similar networked, bottom-up decision structure.

To amplify that point, today I received a private e-mail from a frustrated interactive leader at a daily newspaper. She complained about her publisher and other top executives ignoring the good ideas for new revenue generators that she and her staff have suggested, and instead deferring to their own judgment and making the decision to move toward charging for news content on their website. In other words, this publisher has hired online/digital experts, and has access to smart web developers at corporate HQ, but chooses to ignore their advice in favor of his own “better judgment,” even though he’s not a digital-media expert.

If you watched the Schmidt video interview above, you’ll know that that couldn’t happen at Google.

The e-mail I mentioned is not the first I’ve received of its ilk. I periodically hear privately from newspaper online managers about their inability to get new ideas and initiatives approved, and their frustration that their expertise is ignored by executives who “know better.”

So I leave with a question: How do we get more newspaper publishers and executives to loosen the reins, and rein in the arrogance? Or do we just have to wait for them to retire or die?

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!

7 Responses to "Why Google soars, and newspapers sink"

  1. Brad King
    Brad King 8 years ago .Reply

    I was fortunate at Technology Review to work with a small group of senior managers. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we were tiny enough (re: no unions, no printing presses, no shareholders) that we could innovate.

    The point you make it correct on one level – that hiring a digital expert and then ignoring them is bad; however, there are oftentimes larger business forces at work.

    I found the best solution: meet with the CFO and COO. Get them on board. If you can *actually* put together a business plan for your product (complete with the economic models where you can run simulations to prove profitability), you will win the fight.

    If you go in without the excel sheets and the specific content plan, you won’t – and shouldn’t – win that fight.

  2. […] of Google’s Eric Schmidt. You can check out the video here, but make sure you click over and read Steve Outing’s comments on it as they are […]

  3. […] “http://byjoeybaker.com/2009/05/21/newsorgs-should-offer-freemium-live-interviews/” }); Through Steve Outing’s blog I discovered a video interview of Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. The interview is a short seven and […]

  4. Stu Lowndes
    Stu Lowndes 8 years ago .Reply

    It doesn’t matter what I think,
    it’s what the end-users think.
    -Google CEO Eric Schmidt

    Thank you, Eric.

    However, since when do we, who actually work in the industry, give credit to newspaper publishers and executives who actually think?

    Prove it.

    For starters, ask Conrad Black.

    After 300 years, they still don’t get it, do they?

    Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a newspaperman. I became a pen-pushing clone and a carbon copy of one of those hacks in The Front Page. It was a “calling,” or so they said. Not bad for a kid from the Bronx (a Montreal suburb) with a grade 9 education and a way with the printed word.

    I had a great time in 1962 B.C. (Before Computers).

    All I needed was a bottle, a butt, a broad, and a clunky typewriter.

    After all, it was the only game in town.

    Today, I work and play in the Twilight Zone of communications, a corner of the Outer Limits near the Matrix of Neo and the White Rabbit. I blog in the company of millions, tweet my thoughts, expose myself for all to see on Facebook, and spar with Johnny Mnemonic.

    I have become a WikiMan.

    Sometimes, I miss those days when I was a newspaperman. Another time, another place, another life. Time to change, time to adapt, time to move on. If the Fat Lady visits me in the middle of the night, I’m not going without my netbook.

    Conrad, are you listening?

    “You guys are a dime a dozen,” Black said when I was a pup at The Sherbrooke Record.

    His daddy left him $10 million. These silver pieces bought him newspapers, one after another. Greed is good, he said. He was the Gordon Gekko in the Kingdom of The Fourth Estate.

    What price compassion?

    What price intelligence?

    What price imagination?

    Conrad, like many others of his ilk, never learned that we have two ears to listen – twice – and only one mouth to talk, once. Although we (mere mortals) were paid to listen, we usually closed our minds to the bullshit.

    Newspaper publishers, like emperors and certain software company executives, must be tolerated. Unfortunately, most operate on the simple-minded corporate philosophy of the right way, the wrong way, and MY way!

    Ain’t it a gas to try to pull the plug on a Moss machine?

    Meanwhile, Schmidt seems to have the $18-billion ball of wax right. I like what he says. I like what he does. But, for how long? Is this just lip service? Let’s go down the chain of command and see what we find on the floor.

    And, that is where most newspaper publishers should start – sweeping it!

    Or do we just have to wait for them to retire or die?


    Let’s hang ’em in effigy in the newsroom!

  5. Angela Connor
    Angela Connor 8 years ago .Reply

    They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk. Period. I lived it at a newspaper. The culture of editors dictating the news and knowing what’s best for readers is hard to shatter. It is so deeply rooted and the aversion to change on behalf of some is literally sickening. It’s a shame that there are so many great ideas from those in the trenches that get ignored. Some papers don’t even hire these types. They just shuffle around the old editors and give them shiny new online titles, as if that will somehow buy them a clue or make them start tapping into the needs of the users. I found the newspaper culture stifling and counterintuitve for such a creative medium.

    Angela Connor | @communitygirl

  6. Frymaster
    Frymaster 8 years ago .Reply

    This experience is so typical that there’s a trad3 term for it – HiPPO: highest paid person’s opinion. In addition to the already-knowing-everything-ness of Big Boss mentality per @CG, on issues of the web they are extra lost. The web is deeply counter-intuitive.

    If a specialist says something that doesn’t “make sense” to the HiPPO, the HiPPO trusts his/her own opinion, not the thinking of the specialist.

    BTW, buy $GOOG. They’re so far ahead of any other competitor it’s just stupid.

  7. […] Summary: In a Washington Post video (embedded at the bottom of this post), Google CEO Erci Schmidt says establishing and maintaining a certain culture and certain values at the company helps create success as a byproduct as well as employees who do not need (as much of or a certain type of) managing [via SteveOuting.com]. […]

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