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Harper's Magazine Publisher Shakes Verbal Fist At Google; Romanticizes Own Profession; Quotes Teletubbies

from the this-is-the-most-'angried-up'-his-blood-has-ever-been dept

John R. MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's, is at it again. Last year, MacArthur bravely stood up against "the internet," attacking it for a whole laundry list of evils, including copying and distributing the works of others (often at no cost), dumbing down the level of discourse, and generally not being the Respected Print Business.

Now, he's back and he's narrowed his focus to one company: Google. After spending a moment cheering on French ISP Free for its short-lived ad-blocking internet service (to better choke off arch-nemesis Google's ad revenue), MacArthur gets down to brass tacks: namely, how awesome his mag is and how much he fails to understand what Google actually is... or does.
As publisher of a magazine that specializes in substantive, complex, and occasionally lengthy journalism and literature, and that also lives off advertising, I’ve long objected to Google’s systematic campaign to steal everything that isn’t welded to the floor by copyright — while playing nice with its idiotic slogan “Don’t be evil.”
"Long objected" apparently means whipping up a once-a-year rant aimed vaguely at "The Internet" and filled with self-serving blasts of journalistic piety and rheumy-eyed nostalgia. Google (and its "smaller rivals") provide "logistical support" to pirates and "repackage" the output of hard-working, life-risking journalists, according to MacArthur, having apparently mistaken search engine results for a web scraper's "blog." These people Google "steals" from are gods among men -- from the "humblest newspaper reporter" to the "most erudite essayist." Oddly, he fails to mention the "most intrepid voicemail hacker" or the "most thorough plagiarist" or the "most accurate gun permit cartographer."

Even if he had included a few lowlights, somehow they would have been Google's fault. Because Google makes the world worse.
This for-profit theft is committed in the pious guise of universal access to “free information,” as if Google were just a bigger version of your neighborhood public library. Acceptance of such a fairy tale lets parasitic search engines assert that they are “web neutral,” just disinterested parties whose glorious mission is to educate and uplift.
This might be your problem, Jack. You're expecting Google to "educate and uplift" and it's more interested in indexing the web in order to give you relevant search results. Google's search engine is a tool and you're expecting it to be the teacher from "Dead Poet's Society." Relevance is more important to people who are looking for something than some utopian ideal that "educates and uplifts."

Yes. It's all very annoying and unhinged and bordering on trolling, but MacArthur really outdoes himself with this paragraph, one that indicates his biggest frustration with Google might be that he seems to have no idea how to use it effectively.
This is nonsense, of course. Google’s bias for search results that list its own products above those of its competitors is now well-known, but equally damaging, and less remarked, is the bias that elevates websites with free content over ones that ask readers to pay at least something for the difficult labor of writing, editing, photographing, drawing, and painting and thinking coherently. Try finding Harper’s Magazine when you Google “magazines that publish essays” or “magazines that publish short stories” — it isn’t easy.
I'd really, really, really like to see MacArthur produce a little evidence to back up his claim that Google gives priority to "free content" sites over those with paywalls. Just a hint, paywallers: if you lock it up, it's no longer searchable. There's your problem. If Google can't crawl it, it won't appear. Just something to consider. And I really love the tossed off "thinking coherently." Because people giving away their work for free are idiots, apparently.

And, yeah, just try to find any major magazine using those ridiculous search terms. (Here's a beautiful rebuttal.)
If I was looking to submit an essay somewhere, I might use something like those terms, only phrased much less stupidly. There are several ways to find Harper's, but getting it to the front page involves typing in the magazine's name. And if I already know that, what do I need with a search engine?

One other way many people discover quality long-form writing is through aggregators like Longreads, The Essayist or The Browser. From that point, they move on to the magazines themselves. These filters, curated by humans, do what search engines and meandering anti-Google rants can't: connect quality journalism and essays with readers. Quality aggregation (and effective search engines) save these readers the most precious of commodities -- time.

From this point, MacArthur's post devolves into infantile name-calling using infantile terms while trying to make the point that the internet (being Google) is turning us into babies who just want free stuff while making billionaires out of Google's executives. Here's a mercifully brief sample:
It’s no coincidence that Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Yelp sound like toddler gibberish from the Teletubbies. Whenever I hear these silly corporate names invoked with sanctimonious awe, I imagine Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, and Tinky-Winky singing their hit single “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh’ ” as they shake the change out of some two-year-old’s pocket.
If unchecked, where will this all lead, according to The Last Honest Essayist?
This unending assault of babble potentially could lead to revolutionary conditions in which the new writer-teacher proletariat rises up to overthrow the Internet oligarchy and the politicians and government agencies who protect it.
I think MacArthur greatly overestimates the size of this theoretical revolutionary force. And be sure to note that he's conveniently pulled teachers into the ranks in order to boost his already-monumental self image. Journalists, writers, teachers: the last hope for humanity in the face of Big Search.

It's not so much that MacArthur clearly doesn't understand what he's attacking. This happens several times a day all across the internet. It's that his masturbatorial (like an "editorial," only more self-serving) rant projects an egomaniacal picture of the Publisher/Writer/Journalist as the Savior of Culture. This picture (usually a self portrait) has been painted many times before with a variety of ever-broadening brushes. Creation = good. Aggregation = bad. Google = evil. The arguments never get any better or smarter and do little else but expose the authors as short-sighted pessimists ineptly guarding swiftly vanishing turf.

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 6 Feb 2013 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Still curious about Google's business model for making $$, as noted at #13 above.

    That was answered. Google sells ads for revenue.

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