Yet Another Journalism Professor Gets Nearly Every Fact Wrong In Saying Google Needs To Pay

from the facts?-who-needs-them? dept

With all the journalists declaring that Google needs to pay newspapers, it’s amazing how often their arguments are based on simply incorrect statements — the sort of thing that is the real problem newspapers face. When they make an argument based on entirely incorrect information, no one trust them. For example, reader David Muir points us to Joel Brinkley’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle, where he compares the newspaper industry to the recording industry and gets nearly everything wrong. Brinkley is a former NY Times’ reporter and a journalism professor at Stanford. This is the sort of person who shouldn’t fall prey to getting stories backwards, but he does. First, he claims that Google is using newspapers content “without compensation.”

This is wrong. Google is indexing and linking to newspaper content. They’re providing a service to those newspapers, by sending them more traffic. If those newspapers don’t want that service, it’s quite easy to opt-out. The fact that very few do so suggests they do, in fact, value that service, and thus they feel they are getting compensated.

Then, amusingly, he compares the newspaper business to the recording industry, suggesting Google is like what Napster was a decade ago — and questions where would the recording industry be if it hadn’t shut down Napster. Rather than talk to an unbiased party, he goes straight to the RIAA, who of course talks up what a wonderful victory Napster was, and says, without having shut down Napster: “We would be in a world with thousands of pirates.”

Um. I hate to break it to both Brinkley and the RIAA… but we’re in a world with millions of (what they falsely define as) “pirates.” In fact, I’d imagine that the recording industry would actually consider it a real victory if there were only “thousands.” But does Brinkley point this out? Does he note that the legal effort to shut down Napster not only failed to stop “piracy,” but actually helped advertise it, make it more prevalent, and drive it further underground to sites and communities that were much more difficult to work with?

Of course not. Because why would a super journalist like Brinkley bother with reality in making his case?

Also, it’s worth pointing out that the situation with Napster was also entirely different in that it didn’t involve the musicians/labels putting the content up themselves, and didn’t involve Napster offering up an easy tool for them to remove that content. When it comes to newspapers and Google, both things are true.

This is the sort of stuff anyone familiar with what they were talking about would know. But Brinkley is a journalism expert, so why should he bother to understand what he’s talking about before writing an entire column on it?

He then goes on to (falsely) claim that “without newspaper journalism, the nation would have little original journalism left” extrapolating out (incorrectly) the idea that because most journalism originates from newspapers today, it must continue to do so in the future. We’re already seeing that’s false, as new operations spring up to take over where newspapers are faltering (such as in putting forth bogus opinion pieces comparing Google to Napster).

Then (because he’s not done being wrong yet), Brinkley tries (and fails) to respond to the “information wants to be free” line (which he falsely states “information should be free” — the distinction is important, but Brinkley doesn’t bother to even notice) by saying:

Wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if metropolitan newspapers didn’t have to pay millions of dollars a year for their reporting staffs? Wouldn’t it be nice if Keller’s paper didn’t have to pay $2 million a year to maintain its Baghdad bureau? Newspapers provide an expensive product. They deserve to be paid for it.

We’ve debunked this argument probably 50 times in the last year alone, but since Brinkley apparently doesn’t do any research, let’s debunk it one more time. No one is saying that because information is offered to consumers for free that it means that you don’t make money or you don’t pay your reporting staff. Brinkley is setting up a bogus strawman (the sort of thing reporters shouldn’t do). What they are saying is that they need to come up with better business models (which we’ve pointed out do exist) that leverage (rather than deny) the basic economics of content, and do so in a way that makes a more valuable product.

Brinkley, of course, never bothers to explain how to make the product any more valuable (hint: it’s not by writing columns that are entirely based on incorrect statements) or why people would want to pay for such rubbish. He just insists they “deserve to be paid for it.” But if Brinkley’s writing is an example of the type of quality found in papers today, is it any wonder people don’t find it worth paying for?

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Companies: google, napster

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Comments on “Yet Another Journalism Professor Gets Nearly Every Fact Wrong In Saying Google Needs To Pay”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“Rather than talk to an unbiased party, he goes straight to the RIAA, who of course talks up what a wonderful victory Napster was, and says, without having shut down Napster: “We would be in a world with thousands of pirates.”

Say “bye bye” to your credibility, Mr. Brinkley!

But thanks for the belly laugh. You can find your way out, can’t you?

BigKeithO says:

SFGate Comments

Whenever I see one of these newspaper stories linked to TechDirt I go and checkout the original story and hope there is a comment section. The people reading these pieces about the newspapers and Google are always very anti-newspaper. I think it is very amusing that the only people who seem to think that Google owes them anything are the newspapers or the writers themselves.

Read the comments writers, the people are not with you.

elduderino (profile) says:

the future

I’ve got to hand it Mr. Masnick, concise critical analysis that is rarely matched in these dark days. Techdirt is my 3rd most frequented source of news / info, just after The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and just before my local “news 13”. (google it, hah!) I may sound like I live under a rock but I am not alone, I represent the future of America, young people are increasingly losing touch with aging editorials from a geriatric point of view. The young folks want info quick easy and free. In case Brinkley didn’t get the hint, I prefer *CONCISE* *CRITICAL* *ANALYSIS* of the information, something I think puts The Daily Show and Techdirt in the same catagory, albeit they focus on different information, and Mr Stewart favors MUCH MORE in the way of satire and/or parody, his interview with Jim Kramer was, I’d say, quite scathing, as is this post’s reponse.

sorry for the wall of text folks, if you want the point it’s this.

it can all be summed up with my favorite quote from the movie No Country For Old Men

“deserve’s got nothing to do with it”

John Goad says:

Those who do not learn from history, are deemed to repeat it.

If Brinkley wants to compare Napster and the recording industry situation … to the news industry … then the next step would be to start suing the people who read the news, just like the RIAA did. (It?s absurd)

There is the same amount of Ad space on any web page as there is in any printed newspaper (could argue infinitely more). I suggest you leverage it and move forward.

Now that you do not have to worry about cutting down a million trees just to print a daily paper… you should also be able to make even more money on each ad now that you can prove that an eyeball saw the ad, deliver actionable call to action within the ad, all while tracking its success with metrics like Click Trough Rate (CTR), and Impressions.
Try that with a printed paper ad.

You need to adapt, and monetize.

Google has actually kept you afloat longer than you should have been …

The game has changed on so many levels and it is you that needs to evolve; we no longer need a giant press to print our papers and a fleet of trucks to deliver them… we just publish …

You no longer have a monopoly on information, or entertainment.
Evolve, Adapt, or Die!

Johnson says:

Re: Those who do not learn from history, are deemed to repeat it.

I don’t agree with Brinkley’s argument, but I think his point is that RIAA freaked enough people out that now many people buy and download music through iTunes or Amazon. Or enough do to give music industry a biz model. I know I don’t bother with bittorrent, due to its lack of convenience and unsavory nature, but I don’t mind free tunes from a friend. I give plenty of money to the music cash machines of Jobs and Bezos, and I also pay a lot out to indie music sites. Who’s to say a little hardball won’t create a market? A lot of ill will too, but it’s not as cut and dried as people here say.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Those who do not learn from history, are deemed to repeat it.

“I give plenty of money to the music cash machines of Jobs and Bezos”

Your choices seem reasonable, but you have been buying at least some portion of your music all crapped-up with DRM. I don’t see that as more convenient to bittorrent in the long run.

I haven’t got one cent that I would give for a DRM song. Thankfully, that boondoggle is going away.

Guy One says: I have AdBlock Plus turned off and i see no adds. all i see are direct links to newspappers. how could any body complain about that? People spend money to get on the front pages of google, And google is putting you there free of charge. Newspappers need to learn how to make money from all that traffic…(i would kill for some of that traffic directed towards my parked url’s)

Daniel Tunkelang (profile) says:

Dumb article, but newspapers and Google do have relationship issues

The article is indeed a joke. Newspapers can opt out of being crawled in theory–though in practice they’d have to do it en masse because of the prisoner’s dilemma they now find themselves in, addicted to the teat of organic search traffic.

The question is whether / how they should try to prove their independence. I’ve been debating this with Mathew Ingram at The Nieman Journalism Lab.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Dumb article, but newspapers and Google do have relationship issues

You are wrong, there is no prisoners dilemma.

If a newspaper is not getting anything from Google, which they claim, then Google is nothing but a pariah. The first paper to bail actually benefits by dropping those “stealing” from them; staying with Google hurts their competition.

The only way there is a dilemma is if the newspaper in fact believes there IS a benefit to remaining in the Google index. In which case…what is it they are arguing about?

David Womack (profile) says:

Quit trusting "journalist" a long time ago.

I quit trusting journalist back in the ’80s when Bill Plant, during an interview on the future of journalism stated, “it is the responsibility of journalist to interpret the news for the reader.” I began to search for investigative news, and for news which refuted statements made by politicians using only the facts within those “facts” in common usage. I found less and less until we get to todays journalism, where the NYT is lambasted as a Soros mouthpiece, where CNN and MSNBC do little to hold politicians feet to the fire, where “journalist” have forgotten they are the “fiveth estate” whos sole job is to be unbiased, to report news backed by fact, to keep their opinions off anything other than the Opinions or Editorial sections. I quit paying for news when I found I would have to do the actual fact-finding and research myself, why pay for what you have to do yourself?

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:


Good article.

I think it is appropriate to point out another difference. In WWII, reporters like Ernie Pyle wrote whatever they wanted to, and went to the front lines to get their info (that is how Ernie died, I believe).

Currently “journalists” in, say, Iraq feed back what the military tells them to say (“National Security”). So why are they there? They could just ask the military here what they should say.

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