Google's Moral Obligation To Newspapers: Help Both Sides Be Better Off

from the it's-called-capitalism dept

Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote about a reporter insisting that Google had some sort of moral obligation to help prop up journalism. As we noted at the time, this seemed ridiculous. Journalism's problem wasn't Google, but an unwillingness to adapt in a changing marketplace. In fact, it seemed as though Google should be looked on as a friend. It helped drive traffic to newspaper websites while also providing a very efficient ad platform for monetizing. Yet, the reporter seemed to think that because Google was raking in billions and newspapers (while still incredibly profitable) were seeing their markets shrink, Google should simply hand over money out of a moral obligation to fund journalism.

So, at first I was surprised to see reports coming out that Google CEO Eric Schmidt had gone on record claiming that Google does, in fact, have a moral obligation to help journalism -- but as you read the details, you see that he means in exactly the way we were talking about. He means that the moral obligation isn't to give them money, but to give them the tools by which they can make more money. I still don't see that as a "moral obligation," but simply good business for everyone involved (including consumers of the news).

Filed Under: business models, eric schmidt, moral obligation, newspapers
Companies: google


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  • identicon
    Paul, 12 Jun 2008 @ 1:49am

    I consider helping journalism not only to be a moral obligation, but a vital one fundamental to a healthy democracy. Of course, mainstream media, including newspapers have done far more damage to journalism than Google ever could, so maybe that has more to do with their shrinking market?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 12 Jun 2008 @ 2:32am

    Personally, I'm glad that newspapers are making less money, because all I see in them over here in England is trashy stories about celebrities - not news. If there is any news, it's all doom and gloom, and I beleive it has a serious effect on the mood of the country as a whole. At least there's a massive variety of news on the Internet and it isn't all about trashy headlines and pictures of celebs puking up in the street, or how to look like Brad and Angelina.
    We're bombarded with stories that aren't newsworthy, and people want to seek out a variety of opinions online - it's the right way to go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Douglas Gresham, 12 Jun 2008 @ 2:55am

      Re:

      It's a contrast between the UK and the US I find quite interesting; here (UK) we have generally serious and trusted news reporting on TV and the papers are typically sensationalist, whereas in the States it's the other way around. We can only hope that the US never gets the Daily Mail and we never get Fox News, or we're all in trouble :)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        another dumb american, 12 Jun 2008 @ 6:14am

        The US UK contrast

        Here in the states nearly all of the papers, network news, cable news, ect are sensationalist and biased. FOX news is no worse or better than CNN or Random hometown channel 12. Also the NY Times/Washington Post are no better than any random high school newspaper.

        The writing (in the press and/or sub-titled on tv) is all based on pandering to the American people, who are mostly religous zealots or to cowardly to step up and force government action to comply with common sense.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Douglas Gresham, 12 Jun 2008 @ 10:12am

          Re: The US UK contrast

          I should qualify what I meant; I didn't mean to imply that all UK TV news is good and all newspapers bad (and vice-versa across the pond). What I meant was that the news sources that seem perceived as the most reputable are TV (BBC, ITV (if a bit tabloidy), C4 (if a bit lefty)) in the UK and papers (WSJ, WP, NYT) in the US. Purely by reputation and general perception, I might add.

          I think the British in general are more skeptical and less sensationalist (certainly on the religious zealotry) which is reflected in our media too, but that's a different argument.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    inc, 12 Jun 2008 @ 5:05am

    Still I find it quite disturbing that the internet continues to be the target for censors and supposed defenders of free speech. The main news outlets are being so heavily filtered that they are basically useless. Those who feel it's better to "protect" the public from the truth can't stand the fact that the public is capable of critical thinking and switch to the internet instead. No amount of help from Google will help the newspapers until they actually do some fact finding and articulate what's really going on. Instead of this propaganda machine. What the newspapers should do is strengthen they integrity and ask Google how they can use the free business model to work in the newspapers favor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2008 @ 6:27am

    Its not a moral obligation, its a purely capitalist obligation. Sites like this one are great. Wonderful to be honest, at least for niche roles. But newspapers are a generalized repository of knowledge, a portal. You go to the Times' site, or wherever while following a link, and usually you'll several stories on the side bars about a completely random pick of topics. Some of you'll read, some of them you won't. It doesn't matter if you do or not. What matters is that you come into contact with a wide variety of topics, even if you just read the headlines. Google, and companies like Google need this. Why? Because it drives people to search more things, see more adds supplied by Google. The reason for that is the flip side of the earlier point, news papers are a general repository. People will read things on a news papers site, and then if they are interested search the internet for more information on it, maybe even ending up here at Techdirt, all because there is a generalized source of information out there which goes into just enough detail to give you the basic outline of a story. Cliff Notes are a wonderful way to get a basic understanding of Hamlet, but if you really are interested in it, you'll need to go searching for Hamlet itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AJ, 12 Jun 2008 @ 7:36am

    Who gives a sh*t. Really why should we look back on the technologies that have been replaced by more efficent models. The reason why some careers are dead is because they are tied to a technology that is out of date. Whats next, should we go back to Gutenburg's printing press to make newspapers or just accept the fact if we don't we will put those people out of a job. Those skills are no longer needed and should be replce with new techniques. Adapt or die!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      halycon404, 12 Jun 2008 @ 8:15am

      Re:

      I don't know how to explain this.. Okay. First up, lets get rid of the word "Newspaper", and instead call them "News Outlets" because thats what they really are, its the good they are selling, the news. Now..

      I have a Google Homepage, on it is; Hack A Day, Extreme Tech, Engadget, Wired, a generalized "Technology" section, as well as a Top Stories section, and a generalized "News" section. Theres also a calender and other crap, doesn't matter for this. Also, at the top, taking up more area than anything else on the page, is a Google search bar. Google wants us to read those news stories, and then search on Google for more information. Its how they make their money, people looking for more information. Google doesn't write all those stories, someone else does. For instance, right now for technology.. its BBC, The Register, Washington Post. News is.. NECN, Chicago Tribune, RTE, CNN, Harold Tribune. Lots of major news companies is where they get those generalized headlines from. Why? Because news outlets do the best job of compiling a large cross section of several types of news into easy to digest bite sized chunks. Its the entire reason those news outlets exist. If those news outlets die, people aren't going to be reading those headlines on their google homepage, google will instead have to expend resources for an in house staff that vets and goes through all the different things going on in the world and pick a small cross section of them that are usable to the largest number of people.. instead of just grabbing a random sampling from people who've already done all the vet and packaging work for them. Thats why Google cares. Its cheaper to drag News Outlets kicking and screaming into the 21st century, than it is to build their own media empire.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jason, 12 Jun 2008 @ 8:19am

      Re:

      The reason we (at least in the US) need to give a sh*t has everything to do with the health of our democracy. The founders understood a free press as one of the most important aspects of a successful democracy.

      We currently don't have a free press, we have a corporate oligopoly of infotainment. This is a problem that needs a solution if other problems are to have informed, public action.

      So, perhaps getting this issue right isn't a "moral" concern, but it's at least a "democratic" concern tied closely to concerns about freedom and liberty.

      This is why I say we can't just let economic models and technology answer all the questions. Not everything that's good for business is good for "the commons," and vice versa. Not every technology automatically leads to improvements. Informed action through public debate based on the will of the people is the only way to maintain a truly democratic nation. This depends on effective education and a free press, at minimum. We currently have neither.

      So ... yeah, we should give a sh*t.

      (Please note: I'm not taking a stand on how this particular Google v. journalism issue should be resolved, just saying that the underlying principles are vitally important.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Eliot, 12 Jun 2008 @ 9:03am

    US vs. UK ... again....

    It's interesting to me to hear what UK people think of their own news media. I know I feel more informed when I watch BBC America than nearly any other news, so I'm glad to hear that the UK doesn't feel the opposite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Combs, 13 Jun 2008 @ 9:22am

    making money and tools

    Newspapers are still valid advertising placements, especially for local businesses. Adwords really makes it pretty easy to feed internet content back into the print world. Smart advertisersdo exactly that. Eroding standards for journalism? That just lowers the price for those placements. I've been kind of wondering when crappy journalism will start eroding page rank--newspapers still seem to get a pass as relevant and authoritative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rhea - google fan, 13 Jun 2008 @ 7:18pm

    Journalism and Google

    Well reading this post, I was thinking of... Google helping the periodicals? the tabloids? I don't think it's the problem of Google if print journalism is suffering because of the evolving technology online.

    It will not be long that print journalism will have to say goodbye and move online, we have seen several newspapers and magazines do that already(though it will take longer to some countries like those in Asia .)

    I agree that Google's role here is not to promote Journalism, but just to provide tools for Journalists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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