Thinking Tech

Google CEO Schmidt: the fox in news' hen house?

Posting in Sustainability

I interviewed Schmidt a few times years ago when he CEO of Novell and he strikes me as the type who reads newspapers. So try and be one.

When it comes to news, is Google CEO Eric Scmidt, as one colleague puts it, the Fox in the hen house or a conciliator willing to share the spoils? In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Ruppert Murdoch's nemesis outlined his vision for the future of news and how it will be consumed and sustained.

"I certainly don't believe that the Internet will mean the death of news. Through innovation and technology, it can endure with new found profitability and vitality. Video didn't kill the radio star. It created a whole new additional industry," he concluded in a editorial in which he politely told publishers to stop complaining and subtly urged them to start exploiting partners, like, yes, Google.

Schmidt envisions gadgets in a few years from which readers can flip through stories with the speed and quality that matches the experience of a newspaper. In fact, he mentions a service called Google Flip Fast that aims to make electronic content access easier for readers. And by the way, Google search sends newspapers about four billion page views every month for free, thank you very much.

From reading this, you'd think Google and Schmidt are the newspaper industry's best friends. I'd like to know what Google co-founders Sergy Brin and Larry Page think.

Schmidt denies Google makes much money through news searches although he didn't quantify how little. A "tiny fraction" of Google's revenues can still be a lot. And what's the brand loyalty worth that Google derives from all those searches? Schmidt over-simplifes Google's depedency on news. Take news away and what's left?

The 77 comments (so far) are as interesting as the column itself. To synopsize, they accuse Google of stealing content or argue newspaper monopolies are getting their just desserts. There's truth and justice in  both points of view.

Here's what I think Google should do if for no other reason than to understand what we journalists do. It's a  bit of walk in my shoes thing. Set up your news organization, create your own content and let the best content win. Make money off it. Now that would really scare newspapers.

It used to be content was king because whoever produced the best prevailed (my longtime employer Ziff Davis in its day). That still makes a lot sense, but Google has muddied this concept by generating billions of page views for itself which are way stations to what the seeker really wants, the news.

From a business perspective, it would be a divergence from Google's strategy of developing technology, but the company can afford it. I interviewed Schmidt a few times years ago and he strikes me as the type who reads newspapers.

So try and be one.

I use Google News many times every day to research stories. Like everyone else on the planet, life without Google would be an adjustment, but at least we would have a choice: Bing, Yahoo or a real newspaper.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure