Perhaps The Problem With Journalists Is They're Taught By Professors Who Think Google Is To Blame For Newspaper Decline

from the just-a-thought dept

Back in May we wrote about a journalism professor from Berkeley named Neil Henry claiming that it was it was Google's social responsibility to give money to journalists because Google News was putting newspapers out of business (which was followed by an equally bizarre claim from another journalist that this claim didn't go far enough and newspapers should actually sue Google). The problems with this statement are obvious. First, it's not Google that's killing journalism. If anything, Google has helped drive much more traffic to many websites of various newspapers. That's good for those newspapers. Second, Google doesn't host any content at all. It's not competing with newspapers, it's simply acting as a guide so people can find the news on those newspapers' websites. It would be the same thing as blaming a newspaper for harming the movie business because it has movie listings. After all, that provides "choice" to readers who can pick which movie they want (just like Google provides a choice about which news site people can pick to read news stories). Finally, Google doesn't even have any ads on its Google News pages -- showing that Google isn't even making any money on the site that these journalists claim is making so much money.

We pointed out much of this, as did many other sites. As a journalist and a journalism professor, you would think that perhaps Mr. Henry would have bothered to read up on this and understand why his claims don't make sense -- and then either apologize and change his opinion or, at least, respond to the criticism. Instead, as an anonymous reader points out, he's simply repeating the bizarre claim that Google has a social responsibility to give money to journalists, while talking about how his former students are losing jobs. It must be emotional to have your students losing jobs, but perhaps it has more to do with learning from a journalism professor who doesn't seem to understand how the thing he's criticizing actually works (and then ignores everyone who points out his incorrect statements).


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Doug Lay, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 3:31pm

    The suggestion that Google should help subsidize journalism isn't the worst of it. Quality journalism has often received support from the wealthy. The real loser argument is the suggestion that newspapers should band together to sue to protect content. That would be a complete disaster and would quickly reduce newspapers to near-RIAA status in the public eye.

     

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    Anony, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 3:31pm

    Buisness Model

    It's the same way with the music industries. They are using the RIAA to attack the "new way" of doing things (downloading music) because they don't want to adjust their business model.

    The newspapers are losing sales not because of Google, but because it's much easier to get the news you want online and Google is merely a tool to achieve that. What have the newspapers (and mainstream media in general) done to make it easier to find news? Nothing. They have simply been merging to one big company that only cares about ad revenue.

    The internet is basically a much more fluid market where you can literally lose customers to competition overnight. If the newspaper can't adjust to that, they suffer losses like they are now.

     

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    Sad, really, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 3:38pm

    *sigh*

    If it weren't google, it would be someone else. Besides, do you prefer googling your news with your morning coffee or do you prefer reading your huge paper in the bus to work, and get your hands all dirty.

    In the land of the lawsuits, you can't be too surprised about this kind of retarded attitude towards new technologies. Let's not adapt, let's sue. Wait to go genius!

     

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    Sam Smith, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 3:42pm

    uggh.

    I used to work at a large newspaper and most of the upper management didn't understand that google didn't really copy the news stories but rather provided a summary and a link back to the story on the newspapers website... no matter how hard the IT department tried to explain this to management they either didn't understand or believe it. newspapers management is older generation and they aren't tuned into online offerings.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 3:52pm

    While I agree that he shouldn't be pointing the finger at Google, there is some validity in his statements about the quality of journalism produced on the internet.

    There is not much money in online journalism; or, rather, there is, but only for a few and not nearly enough to cover all the current newspaper journalists. I think Neil Henry just takes an extreme condition reporting that there will be no worthwhile news at all.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 3:55pm

    Lets just say that the dear old professor is right and Google is actually ruining the newspapers. I still don't see a problem. Who are the ones who decided to become journalists and why should they be subsidized? Why don't we subsidize the ice delivery men too since all of the people who used to deliver ice are now out of work because of an electric refrigerator. Why don't we subsidize milk men? In certain industries and under certain conditions it makes sense, but in this case it is just ridiculous.

     

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    Nick (profile), Jul 26th, 2007 @ 5:00pm

    This professor is a Berkeley of all places? You would think his thinking might be a little more progressive.

    When a business's profits start to go away, it no longer deserves to be in business. If it is a service as important as news, the government steps in and supply the service (such as PBS, NPR, government and private funding of the arts, other regulated and unregulated public utilities), but usually a better business model will and have emerged (such as the ecosystem of blogs, aggregators, filters, rankers, recommendation engines, and search engines) and make a profit at the same time. Stop the winning, Henry.

     

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    Hornswaggled, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 5:01pm

    You got it right.

    Another example of old time business not adapting to the times, nor embracing their benefits. I would think that this digital revolution of sorts would lower the newspapers costs while increasing their reach and therefore selling more ads.

    I think this was a really good explanation of why and how Google has nothing to do with the newspapers decline. I think the problem with the papers is that a huge revenue source for them was the classified ads section. Those are now like ghost towns with craigslist and other sites that cater to that need.

    I do want to make sure I understand correctly though, this professor wants Google to send free traffic to the newspaper sites as well as pay them to do so? If they can somehow manage that then the internet as we know it is in trouble.

     

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    Peter, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 5:14pm

    As Dennis Prager would say - you have to have gone to Graduate School to be that stupid

     

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    Ed, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 5:34pm

    The real problem

    The real problem is all of the sites and "authors" than have no background in journalism. No experience, no understanding of how to research and report a story, no sources; no sense of journalistic integrity. But that's another discussion.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 6:49pm

    "The real problem is all of the sites and "authors" than have no background in journalism. No experience, no understanding of how to research and report a story, no sources; no sense of journalistic integrity. But that's another discussion."

    Its much easier to make a website then distribute a paper, so there will be some lower budget people reporting news. You cant just type in "news" into google and just click on something random and expect it to give you quality information. Thats where common sense kicks in, there are plenty of websites that have great quaility.

     

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    Rebekah, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 7:08pm

    Get over yourself and adapt

    The real problem - aside from the fact that this professor is from Berkeley and nothing of sense ever comes from that place - is that, like many before him, he has chosen to whine and blame someone else instead of adapting to a cultural shift and doing what he needs to do to remain competitive and relevant. So let him go down screaming - his voice will soon be unheard. Oh, and long live Google :)

     

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    bodycount, Jul 26th, 2007 @ 9:51pm

    could it also be the liberal news bent? maybe the opening solvoes for the fairness doctrine?one thing about liberals is they dont understand the FREEmarket

     

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    Enrico Suarve, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 1:03am

    Integrity in Journalism?

    Where exactly?

    Since the start of the GWOT I've spent more and more time online searching out new articles, blogs and background reading on the stories, and there has been a common thread - the reporting in mainstream media has in general been appalling.

    Come to medialand where a boxcutter is a deadly weapon, a tub of flour is equivalent to a pound of TNT, you can manufacture chemical weapons from cow turd and all the outlets sing the same song

    Then go around the internet where I can find commentaries from informed, coherent individuals who not only say "this is this", but go on to say why it is then provide background, examples and independantly verifiable proof

    Is it any wonder I'm turning more and more to the internet and using papers less?

    Perhaps there ARE journalists out there with integrity and a desire to be thorough, but the same old school idiots who havn't figured out how that there internet thingumy turns on yet, are the same ones editing and filtering their stories

    Perhaps the professor would be better aimed at the heads and editors of papers then research how they allowed themsleves to become irrelevant, and how if you are going to offer biased, non-analytical reports to your readers you might lose them if they can get detailed information elsewhere

     

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    Louis, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 1:48am

    Regarding Google and Journalism

    Journalists are woefully underpaid. Financially, the profession cannot attract or retain the brightest university graduates. The average starting salary for a new J-school grad is $26,000. Even the true believers, those motivated by the higher principles of journalism, are too often forced out by paychecks that can't be stretched to meet costs of living in our nation's pricier cities. Journalism is fortunate because it selects those who cannot but be writers and journalists. Professors keep saying not to go into journalism if you want to get rich. So if Google could help out instead of just sponging on free content it would be most welcome.

     

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      John, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 4:45am

      Re: Regarding Google and Journalism

      Berkeley's Journalism school is graduate only (no undergrads), so one would hope that they would be entering with more experience and leaving towards a bit higher pay.

       

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      Vincent Clement, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 6:00am

      Re: Regarding Google and Journalism

      If you believe a group of people are underpaid, then that group of people needs to improve the marketing of their skills. Do you think that just because someone went to Journalism School that they are entitled to a higher salary? Don't people have prove their worth? No one is underpaid. You agree to a wage voluntarily.

      So if Google could help out instead of just sponging on free content it would be most welcome

      There are no ads on Google News. Only the headline and maybe a one or two sentence snippets are displayed. Clicking on the link takes you directly to the news source. So please explain how Google is 'sponging on free content'?

       

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        Eben Spinoza, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 6:36pm

        Re: Re: Regarding Google and Journalism

        You appear to think that because Google doesn't explicitly embed ads in these pages, the activity isn't profitable for them.

        The attention generated by Google News bleeds over to Google's other properties which are paid. The cost of generating that cross-traffic by indexing the news is far lower than creating the content.

         

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    Eben Spinoza, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 2:07am

    Decoupling Advertising Rents from Content

    Google is certainly benefiting from the interest readers have in online newspaper content while keeping most of the rents generated by that attention.
    Newspapers have traditionally sold advertising by tightly bundling advertising with their attention attractant, the content. Unfortunately, in the paid search model, Google (and other indexers of the web) are able to strip out most of those rents before readers arrive at the content destination. Simply stated, qualifying a customer by knowing that he asked for something specific (as expressed in a query) is far more effective and measurable than exposing him to advertising at a distal point (i.e., while reading content). The situation isn't , of course, Google's creation -- but they do benefit from it leaving the content creators with much reduced rents.

    Because of the fragmentation of the newspaper business and anti-trust laws, the ability of newspaper owners to shift some of those rents over to themselves is limited.
    For example, if anti-trust laws were relaxed, newspaper could ban together and charge "landing rights" to indexers, that is a small, incremental monetary amount for each reader refered by an indexer/search engine. While the idea is simple, the politics of putting such a system in place would be tremendous.

     

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      Vincent Clement, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 6:08am

      Re: Decoupling Advertising Rents from Content

      Get your head out of the world of economic models and into the world of reality.

      You do know that Google has no ads on Google News? So exactly what rent is Google keeping? Google provides a headline and maybe a one or two sentence snippet. Click on the link and it takes you directly to the original article (usually with ads).

      It is the news sites that generate rents from the additional traffic that Google sent their way - at no cost to the news site. Maybe it should be Google charging the news sites a "sending right" for directing traffic to the news site?

       

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    Louis@yahoo.com, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 7:06am

    More Google and Journalism

    Journalism is hard work unlike playing with computer software at home for a few hours and starting Facebook. Google basically cut pastes the link. Many reporters approach the poverty line. Papers in California regularly offer starving salaries of $10 an hour, with more a few paying $9 - what you can make frothing cappucinos at Starbucks in San Francisco and only 50 cents an hour more than what Wal-Mart pays its Superstore employees.

    At the same time though newspapers are competing with a wide array of media. Often they only regurgitate press releases which you could get anywhere else.

     

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      Unknowledgeable Geek, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 7:35am

      Re: More Google and Journalism

      Boo Hoo. Choice, it is the one thing all of us have.

       

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      Buzz, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 9:35am

      Re: More Google and Journalism

      I defy you, sir, to even submit a blueprint layout for Facebook. Show me what languages you would use, the object layout, what database you would use, the database structure, etc. That little comment blatantly displays your ignorance on the matter. Creating a Facebook takes WAY more time/training/effort than journalism.

      Are you referring to physical labor? Well then sure, journalists run around on their feet with cameras in hand while programmers sit in their cubicles and tick away at the ol' keyboard. I won't argue that, but I am surprised you think that programming is easy and that one can create a billion-dollar company in a few hours.

      Journalists being underpaid is the sad truth of today, but pointing fingers at Google or any Internet service will not save that industry. If anything, it will accelerate its death on top of giving it a bad reputation. There are plenty of ways to monetize one's journalistic talents outside of just working for a newspaper.

       

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    Bounce, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 9:06am

    Twitchy friggin' dinosaurs

    "if anti-trust laws were relaxed, newspaper could ban together"

    Yah--like the five Mr. Burnses who own all the media in the US isn't monopolistic enough.

    The commenter who said that publishing management is out of touch is right. The Interwebs (and Google is just one of many news aggregators) gives readers what they want. Newspaper management could cash in on it with a little innovation (read: more than ads), but they'd rather pule and storm. These are guys who are hating the sun because it won't light their cigars.

     

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    LeRover, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 8:23pm

    Oft-Repeated Google vs Newspapers Argument

    TD - with all due respect, you've made this point many, many times on the site: "oh, look how stupid those newspapers are - Google is sending them traffic and they are claiming it's destroying them!" And I am going to have to disagree with you on this one.

    Newspapers (at least the good ones) have put a lot of time, money and effort into developing their brands. How would one argue that browsing through Google News which posts snippets from across the web (often rating second-rate blog articles above the original material printed in major newspapers) is improving their brands? I don't think anybody can make this claim.

    Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for Google), little snippets with tile images is what many people deem sufficient for news reading. Newspapers are providing that (reluctantly, it seems) and are not getting anything back. The few visitors who do click through to full article may not be enough to compensate for a whole lot more who don't. Then, if you ask the people who didn't click where they heard the news, they'll say "I've just read it on Google". Like Google was a news source. Is that what you're suggesting newspapers should be grateful to Google for?

    Indeed, they do get a few clicks from Google News. What they also get is brand dilution - all while Google is strengthening theirs.

    Why then, the argument goes, don't newspapers simply opt out of the service [by Google News]? Well, why don't unionized workers who are unhappy about their salaries just go and find another job? Because sometimes it takes more than one person (or company) to change an unfair or questionable practice.

    One newspaper would certainly lose by pulling its content. But a few of them could band together and demand compensation from Google. This would *not* be absurd or laughable as you often suggest here at TD - this would be logical and even necessary. And Google should be prepared to pay for the privilege of strengthening its brand and extending it into news services. I think, it already does pay in some cases.

    Just like I don't buy claims about Google's "social responsibility" (you're absolutely right on that one - the professor in this story is not thinking straight), I also don't buy the claim that a company taking content and condescendingly throwing back a few clicks as a "payment" (here, guys - go write some more articles for us to index) should feel entitled to self-righteously continue doing this.

     

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      Buzz, Jul 29th, 2007 @ 3:27pm

      Re: Oft-Repeated Google vs Newspapers Argument

      TD - with all due respect, you've made this point many, many times on the site: "oh, look how stupid those newspapers are - Google is sending them traffic and they are claiming it's destroying them!" And I am going to have to disagree with you on this one.

      Fair enough. I am not a Techdirt representative, but I found your response intriguing.

      Newspapers (at least the good ones) have put a lot of time, money and effort into developing their brands. How would one argue that browsing through Google News which posts snippets from across the web (often rating second-rate blog articles above the original material printed in major newspapers) is improving their brands? I don't think anybody can make this claim.

      By directing readers to news sources they would not have stumbled upon otherwise, that is definitely improving those brands. I do not consider myself an 'abnormal' user, and Google has led me to many news sources I have come to love. Therefore, it is safe to assume that there are many others like me who find wonderful news sources through Google. As for Google ranking second-rate blogs above the original material, that is Google's prerogative. It is not really part of the issue here. If anything, it sounds like you are upset that competition is receiving equal/better treatment.

      Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for Google), little snippets with tile images is what many people deem sufficient for news reading. Newspapers are providing that (reluctantly, it seems) and are not getting anything back. The few visitors who do click through to full article may not be enough to compensate for a whole lot more who don't. Then, if you ask the people who didn't click where they heard the news, they'll say "I've just read it on Google". Like Google was a news source. Is that what you're suggesting newspapers should be grateful to Google for?

      What is the problem here? There are enough people who click the link to the site (thus fulfilling Google's mission) to offset this supposed threat of people feeling that Google was the actual news source. Everyone knows that Google is a search engine. So, if I tell someone I read something "on Google", that other person will Google what I read and find the source anyway. Google is not taking anything way from news sites. It only gives traffic.

      Indeed, they do get a few clicks from Google News. What they also get is brand dilution - all while Google is strengthening theirs.

      Google is still doing nothing illegal. And I disagree with the target sites suffering "brand dilution". You'll have to explain that one to me.

      Why then, the argument goes, don't newspapers simply opt out of the service [by Google News]? Well, why don't unionized workers who are unhappy about their salaries just go and find another job? Because sometimes it takes more than one person (or company) to change an unfair or questionable practice.

      I defy you to show me a world without search engines. No one could find anything in such a situation. Google is simply the best at that they do, and everyone complains. Why is Google the sole target of complaining newspapers?

      One newspaper would certainly lose by pulling its content. But a few of them could band together and demand compensation from Google. This would *not* be absurd or laughable as you often suggest here at TD - this would be logical and even necessary. And Google should be prepared to pay for the privilege of strengthening its brand and extending it into news services. I think, it already does pay in some cases.

      It is absurd and laughable. I do not understand your complaint of "Google strengthening its brand". What does Google do for a business? It helps people find what they are looking for on the Internet. It organizes the world's information in accordance with its mission. The stronger that Google's brand becomes, the more people will be drawn to it and quickly find that which they are looking for. Google takes pride in making its visitors' sessions as short as possible (they even say so).

      Just like I don't buy claims about Google's "social responsibility" (you're absolutely right on that one - the professor in this story is not thinking straight), I also don't buy the claim that a company taking content and condescendingly throwing back a few clicks as a "payment" (here, guys - go write some more articles for us to index) should feel entitled to self-righteously continue doing this.

      You have an extremely warped view of what Google does. If it is so horrible, make sure all your digital content is removed from their search indexes. Watch your number of visitors skyrocket as Google no longer robs your traffic!

       

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    LeRover, Aug 1st, 2007 @ 2:52am

    Buzz:

    Thanks for your response to my comments. You wrote:

    "You have an extremely warped view of what Google does. If it is so horrible, make sure all your digital content is removed from their search indexes. Watch your number of visitors skyrocket as Google no longer robs your traffic!"

    This is exactly the kind of thinking I was talking about (see "if you don't like your job, go find another one"). It works sometimes and other times it doesn't. Let me offer an example that might be a little simpler than newspapers. You can then easily construct an analogy for the world of newspapers.

    Let's say you're a restaurant reviewer with a popular blog. You're doing a great job visiting restaurants, writing down what you ate, discreetly taking pictures. It took you years to get where you are, but now you have readership, advertisers, respect... People use you as a reference tool to decide where to eat in your city. Google has recognized that you are a decent site with many inbound links, so it gives you a fair share of SEARCH ENGINE clicks for free. Everything is going great, so far.

    Enter Google's "helping hand" through "innovation" and see how it "helps" you. Google has recently launched an interesting feature - to see it in action, type in any restaurant name + city name in Google maps.

    See what they have there? Pulled quotes, photos, details (hours, prices, etc) and so on.

    Did Google research and write this content? No. Did they take the photos? No. Did they write the reviews and quotes? No. Did they even visit the restaurant? No. And now, the punch line: having all this right in front of you in easy-to-switch "tabs", are you going to click through to the sites who originally provided them with address, details, hours of operations, menu suggestions, quotes and photos? Well, may be. But probably not. Why bother? You have (almost) everything you need to make a decision right there on your GOOGLE page!

    Who's winning and who's losing here? The small sites whose authors did all the research are winning? I beg to differ.

    Back to our main topic, what I am saying with this is Google works great as a search engine and it should certainly continue doing what it does. I define search engine as a tool that helps you FIND the right web page and REFER you to it. That's the current "SOCIAL CONTRACT" with search engines - nobody has an issue with that. But they are trying to change the social contract by including new "fine print" effectively say "and, by the way, we can also do whatever we want with your content".

    When Google tries to take their brand power and apply it elsewhere and become a destination in itself, there are problems. If it starts combining on one page quotes and materials from different sources, I see it as a big problem. In doing so, Google is effectively TRIVIALIZING content to such a point that content providers won't matter anymore. Mind you, no branding will be allowed through Google filters - only "borrowed" quotes, snippets, numerical data, photo icons, etc. At which point this soup of information will become Google's "own" content... which - you've guessed it - it will produce at no cost to the company, save for a few clicks it gifts the real authors with!

    I think content providers who look beyond getting their fix of Google clicks should wake up to this and at the very least consider what their options are. What I think is the most appropriate in the face of this threat (the threat of trivialization by pulverization) is some sort of unionization of content providers.

    P.S. I am pretty sure I didn't convince you, but at least I hope that I brought up some points you can ponder.

     

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