Newspapers: more creativity, please

As many people probably know by now, Google came out with another of its Google Labs features on Monday: a Google News timeline view, which gives users the ability to see and scroll through headlines, photos and news excerpts by day/week/month/year. The sources of this data can also be customized to include not just traditional news sources but also Wikipedia, sports scores, blogs, etc. It’s a fascinating way of interpreting the news — not something that is likely going to replace a regular old Google News headline view, but an additional way of looking at things.

One question kept nagging at me as I was looking at this latest Google effort at delivering the news, and that was: Why couldn’t a news organization have done this? Why not a newspaper, or even a collective like Associated Press (which seems to prefer threats to creativity)? Isn’t delivering the news in creative and interesting ways that appeal to readers what we are supposed to be doing? Apparently not. Even the most progressive of newspaper sites still looks very much like a traditional newspaper — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But is it too much to ask for a little variety? Why not have some alternative display possibilities available? Who knows, it might even con some people into reading more.

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Google helps newspapers, period.

As the newspaper industry has grown weaker and weaker, there has been a steady stream of articles and blog posts blaming Google for some or all of this decline. I’m not going to link to them all, because there are simply too many, and they are easy enough to find. The standard allegation is that the search engine, and other similar engines such as Yahoo and MSN, hijack readers by aggregating content, and then monetize those eyeballs by posting ads near the content. Newspapers get traffic, but Google critics argue that this traffic is essentially worthless — or at least can’t make up for the value that Google has siphoned off.

One of the most recent articles to take this tack appeared in the Guardian and quoted Sly Bailey, the chief executive office of newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror. Among other things, Ms. Bailey said that:

“By creating gargantuan national newspaper websites designed to harness users by the tens of millions, by performing well on search engines like Google, we have eroded the value of news. News has become ubiquitous. Completely commoditised. Without value to anyone.”

This argument is almost too absurd to be taken seriously. In a nutshell, Ms. Bailey is claiming that by expanding their readership and making it easier for people to find their content, newspapers have shot themselves in the foot, and should do their best to avoid being found by new readers. It’s particularly ironic that the Mirror CEO is making these comments in a story in The Guardian, which has built up an impressive readership outside the UK thanks to its excellent content.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

Nick Carr is wrong about Google

After seeing recommendations on Twitter from Clay Shirky and others, I was expecting a tour de force from author and former Harvard Business Review editor Nick Carr, but I confess that I found his post on Google as middleman — and its effect on newspapers — disappointing. Not just because the middleman comparison is one that has been made repeatedly over the past couple of years, and therefore doesn’t really add much to the conversation, but also because I think he is wrong. Or rather, I think that his description has some merit, but the lessons he draws are flawed, and ultimately unhelpful for newspapers (I would have put these thoughts into a comment, but Nick says he has disabled comments because they are too distracting).

Is Google a “middleman made of software,” as Nick describes it? In many ways, yes. And as he points out, entities that act as middlemen in a market typically act in their own interest. But what about his third point, in which he says:

The broader the span of the middleman’s control over the exchanges that take place in a market, the greater the middleman’s power and the lesser the power of the suppliers.

I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here. The broader the control that Google has over the exchanges that take place in a market, the greater its power — but that power doesn’t lessen the power of Google’s suppliers. If anything, in fact, it amplifies it. Does Google indexing my website, and providing a link to it when someone searches for my name, lessen the power that I have over my content? If you think of power as control over who sees the content and where, then yes. But in reality, it provides me with far more reach than I could otherwise achieve on my own, by exposing that content to people.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

NYT, Google exec go hyper-local

There’s an interesting battle shaping up in the “hyper-local” online journalism market, at least in the New York and New Jersey area. The New York Times confirmed on Monday that it is launching a new project called The Local, in co-operation with journalism students at the City University of New York. The network of local blog sites will reportedly start with Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in Brooklyn and Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange in New Jersey, and will apparently cover the usual neighbourhood fare such as schools, restaurants, crime and government. After the launch was mentioned by a local blog called Brownstoner (and also by PaidContent), blogger and journalism prof Jeff Jarvis wrote a post describing how he was working on a local-blogging project and happened to run into someone from the NYT, and the two agreed to co-operate on a joint venture. As Jarvis describes it:

In each of these two pilots, they’ll have one journalist reporting but also working with the community in new ways. The Times’ goal, like ours, is to create a scalable platform (not just in terms of technology but in terms of support) to help communities organize their own news and knowledge. The Times needs this to be scalable; it can’t afford to – no metro paper can or has ever been able to afford to – pay for staff in every neighborhood.

A spirited battle subsequently broke out in the comments section of Jarvis’s post, and on Twitter, between the blogger and Howard Owens — the former head of digital media for GateHouse Media (which recently settled a contentious lawsuit with the New York Times over one of the “hyper-local” sites run by Boston.com). Owens said he was skeptical of the plan, in part because of the failure of previous local journalism networks such as Backfence and YourHub, and made the point that local staff need to be in each community. Jarvis and Owens then got into a debate over (I think) whether the staff working for such a hyper-local site should be primarily professional journalists or people who emerge from the community itself.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Google is not your sugar daddy

Variations on the “Google should pay me for X” theme have been around for some time now, and the precipitous decline of content-related industries — among them book publishing, newspaper printing and music distribution, to name just a few — has only accelerated the number and frequency of these complaints. Everyone from the World Association of Newspapers to the American Authors Association seems convinced that the Internet owes them a living, and that Google (being synonymous with the Internet the way it is for so many) is the best one to settle the bill, especially since it has billions of dollars just lying around, like Scrooge McDuck. Let’s call this the “Google as sugar daddy” argument.

But why should Google pay? The main reason seems to be: Because it can. Any additional rationale comes off as an afterthought, and one that in most cases, doesn’t hold water.

Continue reading