Thursday, May 13, 2010

"How to Save the News"

The title roped me in. The content of the story kept me reading.

It seems almost audacious for Google to suggest -- or for anyone to suggest on Google's behalf -- that it has a blueprint that could save America's newspapers. But suspend disbelief (as I had to) and read the aforementioned story.

Let me state something off the top -- I'm not infatuated with Google the way other people are. (That makes neither me nor them correct.) In much the same way I am uncomfortable with Facebook and its propensity to play fast-and-loose with privacy, so too am I bothered by Google's seemingly unrelenting desire to learn more about me. That, in fact, is one of the reasons I use Google mail as my secondary personal account and use Bing to conduct my Internet searches. No, I'm not naive; I recognize Yahoo! and Microsoft also are gathering little nuggets about my life. But I simply feel more comfortable using Google as nothing more than a backup.

Nevertheless, The Atlantic's James Fallows has authored an article that provides multiple discussion points about how Google can play a role in improving the health and quality of America's print media. Take the time to pour through the article.

At its core, Google's concept involves taking the newspaper out of your hands -- making it as much of your past as the typewriter. Instead, Google is, in Fallows' words, interested in "getting news to more people, and more people to news-oriented sites" through your smartphone, computer or similar communications device.

Moreover, Google wants to make this experience of reading the news (and not on paper) as engaging as possible. Oh, and of course, it wants to find a way for everyone involved to make money off you.

One of those ways will -- surprise (NOT!) -- involve a paywall, a mechanism that will compel you to pay for access to online information. I've written about paywalls often on this blog (you can, for example, find posts from May 5, 2010, January 20, 2010 and August 6, 2009.), and I believe they are inevitable -- why would a news organization charge you for a print publication only to give away online the same content for free? (And in case you are wondering, The Atlantic article at the top of this post is indeed online for free; you can't say that about the printed magazine.)

Google's solution, if it is one, does not address, nor does it appear to presume, that more journalists are still needed to cover the centers of political power, America's corporate board rooms, education (at all levels) and the other agencies that make or influence policy. Nor does it indicate whether the growing collaboration between investigative journalism and non-profit foundations will continue. (Here's a list of some of the biggest partnerships.)

Nevertheless, there is evidence in Fallows' story to suggest Google has a genuine interest in finding the solutions to ensure print journalism remains vital and strong. Other corporations should feel ashamed at their lack of interest in doing the same.

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