Yahoo gets some ink on its hands too

by Mathew on November 20, 2006 · 8 comments

As expected, Yahoo has announced a wide-ranging deal with a group of seven newspaper chains (totalling 176 newspapers, according to the New York Times story) to join forces not just on help-wanted classifieds — that part of the deal that has gotten the most attention — but also on news. Both sides described the arrangement as “transformational.”

The partnership is to begin with job ads from the papers appearing on Yahoo’s HotJobs site, and then expand to include local news appearing on Yahoo’s news site, in exchange for various tools such as search and mapping that will be included on the websites of the member newspapers. The deal includes E.W. Scripps, the MediaNews Group, Belo and Cox Enterprises, and the big papers included are the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and the Denver Post.

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The first thing that strikes me about the deal is that those papers aren’t exactly of the same calibre as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune — some of the papers that Google recently did a deal with. The other thing that struck me was how all this sounds like the New Century Network, in which the Times and Knight-Ridder and Gannett tried to form an online venture that failed miserably in 1998. But hey, now newspapers are sexy, says Greg Sterling.

As my friend and former journalistic colleague Mark Evans points out, these deals are a whole lot easier to announce then they are to actually follow through on. And online journalism veteran Mindy McAdams has an even darker view of the arrangement: she calls it another “desperate grab at nothing” and describes it as “seven newspaper companies, wandering lost in the woods, walk into the gingerbread house.”

One big question in my mind is whether the newspapers involved will get enough out of this deal to justify giving away their local news, the thing that could turn out to be their most powerful asset. Since we don’t know the financial details, it’s hard to know who is giving up what, but they might wind up transferring power to Yahoo at the expense of their own bottom lines.

Update:

Dan Gillmor says that newspapers “are starting to behave as though they’re doing the two-minute drill at the end of the game: trying everything in the playbook, and doing it in a hurry.” Frank Paynter thinks that maybe this deal will put some pressure on the newspaper world’s nemesis, Craig Newmark of craigslist. Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch has some thoughts about the deal and how helpful it will (or won’t) be to newspapers — calling it “a tiny band-aid on top of a massive hemorrhaging in the old media industry.” And Jeff Jarvis (surprise!) remains skeptical.

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