Newspapers are dumb to blame Google for their problems

Danny "Search Engine Land" Sullivan has written a masterful rant about the newspapers' campaign to blame Google for all their trouble and to take steps to stop their material from being made available through a search engine.

Earth to newspapers: if people aren't talking about what you publish, it's not news. We call that stuff a secret.

Please get all your newspaper colleagues to agree to a national "Just say no to Google" week. I beg you, please do it. Then I can see if these things I think will happen do happen:

* Papers go "oh shit," we really get a lot of traffic from Google for free, and we actually do earn something off those page views

* Papers go "oh shit," turns out people can find news from other sources

* Papers go "oh shit," being out of Google didn't magically solve all our other problems overnight, but now we have no one else to blame.


The papers can't get coordinated on anything. Anyone remember Pathfinder, that was supposed to be the Time-backed portal for news. Yeah, that did well. What, a decade of the web, and none of the papers could put together their own version of Hulu? The only thing you can all agree on is that you hate Google News for "stealing" so much from you -- despite Yahoo News still being the larger news site. But Google makes a better target, plus I suspect some papers might have favorable placements with Yahoo that makes them not want to yell about the Big Y.

Google's Love For Newspapers & How Little They Appreciate It (via Jbat)


  1. If it’s Google they’re worried about, they’re even dumber than they otherwise seem (like how they rely on classified ad revenue a decade after craigslist and eBay take off). Google’s only contribution is highlighting articles from less-prominent sources (Des Moines Register) on the same search result as an AP/UPI article.

    Where they should be focusing their stupidity is blogs snipping portions of the article without linking. Even that is stupid, though. Provocative (for better or worse) celebrity reporters give identity (for better or worse) to a newsroom, and that’s what puts small-run papers on the national map.

    Dare I say it, newspapers would have been deader longer if bloggers were actually funded to do more than aggregate news.

  2. In Canada, none of Canwest Global’s websites function very well and are junky embarassments to look at (I can’t get the local paper to load right now, actually). I also think that having a network of newspapers that distributes the same measly stories throughout a network – rather than getting great writers to dig out the details on site – may have saved a few bucks but adds nothing to my understanding of the world I live in.

    I love to read news & good writing both online and in paper format – and subscribe to 2 papers at home. You know, as Cassius said, “the problem my dear Brutus is not in the stars, but ourselves.” Take a memo, print media.

  3. Maybe Google should start charging the newspapers for the eyeballs it brings them.

  4. Supposedly, my baby-boomer demographic is using both daily papers and web based news. My local McClatchy affiliated paper had turned into such a worthless piece of crap that I canceled it last year…
    I realize they cut costs to save money but if all I get is less product for more money I can’t keep them floating for old times sake. It was once a really good paper when it was still a local publisher. Unfortunately, their online edition is pretty horrible as well. I get local news from the alt-weekly and television.

  5. This guy’s logic is angry and unsophisticated, if entertaining in a rant-y sort of way. His bottom line seems to be, don’t say anything bad about Google or you’re a neanderthal, and be nice to bloggers. Oh, and start your own hulu. Is that the best he can offer?

    Newspapers have a real — and fascinating — business-model problem. Here it is in a nutshell: They make most of their money from selling ads, (not from subscriptions). Ads sold in print papers are still more lucrative than ads sold against the very same content online. Thus, as readers move online, newspapers’ primary product — the articles produced by their staffers — brings in less money to pay those reporters’ salaries. One way or another, over time this imbalance will be brought back into balance, either by finding new ways to boost online revenue, or by firing staffers, or both.

    That’s simplified (for instance it ignores the differing cost structures of print vs online distribution) but it is the very heart of the problem.

    In light of this, newspapers — in fact, any business — would be foolish to not examine extremely carefully the changing ways that their product is found, read, shared, used and distributed online, and for keenly parsing who is making money from it, and how and why.

    I am not defending bad ideas. There are plenty of bad ideas, and not enough good ideas (yet) to address newspapers’ problem. But Daggle is being too too black-and-white (no pun intended, actually) in characterizing what publishers are looking at and talking about. He seems to feel that questioning Google’s role in distribution of their product amounts to not understanding Google’s role. Or that looking for ways to have more control over their product distribution amounts to a wholesale and deeply unwise retreat from being indexed online at all. Neither is accurate, and he’s not really listening to this fascinating debate if that’s what he’s really hearing.

  6. Unfortunately, not everyone is online and the news media still plays a vital role in keeping the non-Internet users informed. As newspapers and television scale back on the coverage then provide, it tends to have an impact on public dialogue. Especially since these non-Internet types are still supposed to be knowledgeable about the issues when they cast their vote.

  7. Papers will be fine when they stop using paper.

    Focus on their product (news and information) and not the packaging (paper) and charge for it.

    If the internet has done damage to traditional media it is one thing: make them believe that they have to give it away for free.

  8. As someone who worked in the newspaper industry for 10 years (and left because it’s pretty obvious that it’s a dying industry), I find this little campaign embarrassing. It makes newspapers seem even more out-of-touch with the world.

    It’s not Google’s fault (or Craigslist’s faut). It’s just the way things go.

    The horse-drawn buggy industry died out too, and nobody is crying about that now. (Although I’m sure it sucked for the buggy makers at the time.)

  9. newspapers are the new town crier. They are dying because they aren’t relevant to the vast majority of people any more and have been replaced by things that people prefer over the old thing.

    Did people lament the passing of the town crier the same way they are lamenting the passing of newspapers?

  10. Every time I read a newspaper I think. “Get yesterdays news today.” I really can not think of the last time I saw something that I did not read about in more detail elsewhere.

  11. Contra #11, I think that Craigslist has a *lot* to do with the decline of newspapers.

    Craigslist has ads people *want* to go to, and not just the ones with bikini models. Craigslist ads are very searcheable. The San Francisco Chronicle runs a pretty good newspaper website (with no linkrot!), but their online classifieds are embarrasingly bad. To make matters worse, they’ve teamed up with some almost-spam outfit to serve up job ads, and it’s nearly impossible to filter out the ads I don’t want, while it’s very very easy to search in Craigslist without getting irrelevant employment-agency crap clogging the first page of search results.

    A newspaper which did classified ads as well as CL might do pretty well.

  12. I do hope that high-caliber journalism survives the transition from print to web. It costs a lot more to travel the world and do investigative reporting than it does to parrot the findings on a blog- I hope that the market sees and supports the difference.

  13. I thought it was obvious that ebay and craigslist took a huge chunk away from newspapers that used to make something like 30% of their money from classified ads. Who is going to advertise their crap to sell in the newspaper for a dollar a word (or however they do it) when they can put it on ebay for the entire country to bid on, or on craigslist for free? Ditto for real estate websites, personals websites, etc.

    It’s been said before, but I agree that the future of newspapers (if they are going to survive in any format) is “hyperlocal” information that cannot be syndicated easily by AP/Reuters.

  14. @ #14:

    What many people are justifiably lamenting isn’t the loss of the “paper” so much as the loss of the “news”. As others have pointed out, blogs alone will probably never fill the need for trained full-time journalists.

    We need news organizations that can pay experts to sort through stacks of arcane legalese or send reporters halfway around the world to chase down a lead. Hopefully the business models will adapt quickly enough that we don’t lose the professionals we have left.

  15. Why is it that every BB post on newspapers brings out the simplistic, ignorant thoughts on newspapers?

    “Papers will be fine when they stop using paper.”

    Not remotely close to true. Going online only doesn’t change the fact that ad revenue has plummeted due to the flood on the market of content providers.

    “newspapers are the new town crier. They are dying because they aren’t relevant to the vast majority of people any more and have been replaced by things that people prefer over the old thing.”

    Also not true.

    Newspaper organizations are being read by more people than ever before, and it isn’t close. But they are also dying quickly.

    Their revenue model and their content creation models were always separate and connected only by accident. The revenue model has died, and the content creation model will die with it through no fault of its own.

  16. I’ve seen some of the numbers. For the same amount of “news”, newspapers make about 15% online as they make with print. It’s not even close. If I ran a newspaper, I’d consider greatly scaling back my website. I’d also shut down forums. On most newspapers forums are filled with a bunch of haters.

  17. BB readers think of themselves as curious and informed about their wonderful world. Yet so many here are crapping on “newspapers.” BB readers, do you know what the “newspaper” business means?

    Think seriously about the question I just asked you.

    A newspaper is a “team of people paid to figure out what’s going on in your community, or your world, and tell you about it so that you can be even smarter.” You may agree with their report, or disagree. Some of what they report might even bore you. But you want them to have a financial incentive to do what they do — because without them, you will be dumber.


    Then, apply your curiosity to solving this problem: How do I find a way to sustain the people who tell me what is going on in this crazy, threatening, beloved, stupid, fascinating, horrific, and wonderful world in which I live?

    Or, go back to being a shallow and provincial parrot. It’s your choice. And I mean that: You are a consumer of news, and it is your choice.

Comments are closed.