Google’s ‘moral responsibility’ to save journalism

October 6th, 2009 by Chris Hogg Leave a reply »

Whenever Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt talks, people listen, and listen closely. His words are then echoed throughout the Internet and dissected like a high school science experiment. So when he said his company has a “moral responsibility” to help newspapers, media pundits and journos listen.

In an interview with, Schmidt said just that – Google should be involved in saving newspapers from closing down. That said, Schmidt says don’t expect a handout.

In the interview, Schmidt said he believes Google bears a large degree of “blame” for changing the Internet and news reading habits. And while newspapers struggle to find a foothold in today’s digital age, Schmidt says he believes print will still survive in some form. In Schmidt’s own words:

I think in this case Google is a proxy for the internet as a whole. So the people would make the same statements about the Internet as they do about Google. Substitute the internet for Google and you get that idea. And because we play such a central role in information, we’ve become somewhat used to being blamed for everything. In some cases people don’t understand that we’re a conduit to other people doing things. They think Google did it when in fact somebody else did it and made it available.

So how can Google help save print? Schmidt believes the industry faults in three areas: costs associated with physical production, a decline in classified revenues and a loss of print ad revenue. Google, Schmidt says, aims to help with online fixes for these core problems.

In the interview, Schmidt then goes on to talk about the cellphone’s impact on journalism, saying:

We think that over a long enough period of time, most people will have personalized news-reading experiences on mobile-type devices that will largely replace their traditional reading of newspapers. Over a decade or something. And that that kind of news consumption will be very personal, very targeted. It will remember what you know. It will suggest things that you might want to know. It will have advertising. Right? And it will be as convenient and fun as reading a traditional newspaper or magazine.

So one way one to think about it is that the newspaper or magazine industry do a great job of the convenience of scanning and looking and understanding. And we have to get the web to that point, or whatever the web becomes. So we just announced, the official name is Google Fast Flip. And that’s an example of the kind of thing we’re doing. And we have a lot more coming.

If you ever needed a better  example of where Google thinks the future of news is heading, you won’t find one. I, however, think mobile devices and cellphones will have a more devastating impact on the printed word and one day replace printed news almost entirely. After all, if you can use your smartphone to download and read news content anywhere, why would you need to buy a newspaper? Furthermore, the content online provides a more reach and engaging experience, and can be updated at any time.

Of course there is an evolutionary process in adoption, but cost will come down and mobile penetration continues to rise. It wasn’t too long ago that computers were too expensive for the average person to own. Today, many people own more than one. I believe the same trend will happen in mobility and the smartphone will become the most important tool we own.

With all signs pointing to a more mobile future, Google isn’t going to be left in the dust, either. With mobile phones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry or Pre increasingly being used by today’s consumer, the opportunity for Google to capitalize on mobile advertising should not be underestimated. The company has launched programs to encourage developers to incorporate AdSense into apps, and it’s now putting increased focus on design of ads. Imagine that: Google, a metric-driven data business built on a simplistic and minimalist user interface, is putting focus on design.

And lest we forget about Google’s digital medium dubbed “Fast Flip,” an online portal that mimics a newspaper-reading experience on screen. Google shares ad revenue with publishers in the Fast Flip program, positioning the company to acquire online market share and attract eyeballs as online audiences grow.

So as more people move online, Schmidt says Google has a responsibility to solve the industry’s current problems and help find a solution:

Google sees itself as trying to make the world a better place. And our values are that more information is positive – transparency. And the historic role of the press was to provide transparency, from Watergate on and so forth. So we really do have a moral responsibility to help solve this problem.

Schmidt believes there is not shortage of conversation happening online, and the real problem for journalism in the era of the Web is the threat to investigative work.

Well-funded, targeted professionally managed investigative journalism is a necessary precondition in my view to a functioning democracy. And so that’s what we worry about. And as you know, that was always subsidized in the newspaper model by the other things that they did. You know, the story about the scandal in Iraq or Afghanistan was difficult to advertise against. But there was enough revenue that it allowed the newspaper to fulfill its mission.

Competition online breeds speed. With speed comes less research. With less research, stories run the risk of being incomplete or lacking sufficient background info and facts. This cycle breeds a dangerous type of journalism, and I agree with Schmidt on the threat posed to investigative journalism in the era of Web publishing, as it seems to be more focused on the survival of the quickest, rather than the fittest.

So where does that leave journalism in the world of the Web? Again, more questions than answers, but it seems clear the future is mobile and Google is betting big on it.

Newspapers, who are left trying to run with their shoelaces tied have to figure out the concept of the three-legged race: Run in-step with a partner, or you’ll end up falling on your face.

More reading: Schmidt talks about the future for Google ands newspapers in this interview with
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