Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Cherry picking advertising and not paying for the journalism

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 17, 2006

Cherry Pickers.jpgGoogle can sell advertising for much less because it doesn't have to pay for any journalism. Newspapers, TV and radio sell advertising so that they can pay for the journalism.

Craigslist can operate a global classified ads business with just 18 people and do it on a shoestring because Craigslist isn't paying for journalism. It can cherry pick the classified ads business from newspapers and do it insanely cheaply because it doesn't have to pay for the journalism.

So who will pay for the journalism?

Google News cherry picks the best of 4,500 global news sources and it doesn't even want to monetize the business. Therefore there is no way in hell that other media companies can compete against that--because they have much higher costs--and the largest cost is paying for the journalism.

So who will pay for the journalism? You might ask why do we need a professional media class, when we could empower a citizens army of amateur journalists, as some are trying to do.

The reason we need a professional media class is because amateurs do an amateurish job. And that is bad because our society, our economy, depends on high quality information.

In the IT industry, all software engineers know GIGO. This stands for garbage in, garbage out. It refers to the quality of the data that a software program processes. If the data is corrupted in some way, or the source is unreliable, then the end result will also be the same.

We need high quality media in abundant quantities so that we aren't harmed by GIGO.

Professional journalism is a vital pillar of our society, it is sometimes called the Fourth Estate, right up there alongside the Church, Government and the People. Yet professional journalism is fast disappearing because the business models that supported it are disappearing.

I've been asking for more than a year, "what happens if the old media dies before the new media learns to walk?" Media is how society "thinks" it is how we figure out solutions to important problems.

And we have some very big problems ahead that demand the best, high quality information. There is Bird Flu, there are huge political issues to deal with, there are enormous ecological challenges ahead.

Yet we have a sick media sector that is getting worse.

So who will pay for the journalism? Last week Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO seemed irritated in answering the question "when will you monetize Google news?"

But this is an incredibly important question because if Google was determined to monetize Google news, then it would associate some value to the content. Then the content producers could charge Google and any others, and funnel back the money to produce high quality news media.

That would be a virtuous cycle and Google News would be supporting an extremely important and extremely vital resource that is a pillar of a healthy society: high quality professional journalism.

picker_detail.jpgInstead, it cherry picks the best and refuses to try to monetize the news it copies, which compounds the problem because it associates no value to it. Yet our society, our businesses, associate a tremendous amount of value to high quality journalism.

Google is inadvertently blocking the ability of news organisations to monetize their work. That harms our ability as a society, and as an economy, to make the best decisions.

We need to have a vibrant professional media, competing to produce the best, high quality news media. Because then we are likely to make the best decisions, and choose the best future.

I'm hoping Google will recognize that "Don't be evil" means nothing and that "Do some good" is what Google founders and employees would rather be doing (that's probably what the Founders meant so say).

Google has a chance to do some good on a massive scale. And Googlers love big challenges; the Gordian Knot of this next phase of the Internet is how to pay for the journalism we need. Google could become the saviour of the Fourth Estate rather than one of its pall bearers.

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[Published in an experimental format across different sites, the first part is here, the second part is here.]

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