How can newspapers help Google?

By Steve Outing

What goes around, comes around. … Sometimes when you’re having trouble coming up with a solution to a difficult problem, it helps to turn things upside down and get a new perspective.

I’d like to see the newspaper industry, especially the big metro dailies which are in the most trouble and closest to collapse, look at things differently. Stand on their heads. Ditto for the Associated Press, which has been saber-rattling lately about closing off some of its content, even some headlines and blurbs that most reasonable people would consider to be “fair use.” (See this video exchange on the Charlie Rose show between AP CEO Tom Curley and’s Arianna Huffington, where Huffington makes a strong case that AP and other saber-rattlers (Walter Isaacson, Rupert Murdoch, et al) are trying to go back to old times of walled gardens for media content, which are destined to fail today.)

So here’s an idea for newspapers, the AP, et al: Think through how you can help Google make more money! Figure out how to spread your content much more widely instead of focusing on how to restrict its flow.

Stop looking to the Recording Industry Association of America’s beyond-belief-stupid approach to the spread of music on the Internet (“Hey, I know! Let’s sue our customers!”) as a role model. Stop pointing the gun at your own head!

There’s a hint of why I say this in my previous blog post about Google’s Google News, the popular news link aggregator. The search giant just recently began dipping its toe in the water in terms of adding contextual ads on searches via Google News, but it’s held back on opening the ad spigot fully. You can guess why: It would cause even more of an uproar among news providers, some of whom would block their content from Google and likely get pushed toward putting price tags on their content (hello, again, walled gardens!).

What the AP and newspaper publishers really want is money from Google (their “fair share”). As the new middleman between the consumer and the news provider, Google is able to handily scoop up so much ad money for its role that there’s not enough left over to support the type of strong news media we’ve been used to. Ergo, newspapers are being cut back in size and quality, journalists are laid off, and investigative reporting can no longer be afforded by the institutions who used to do the bulk of it.

In my last blog item, I urged Google to come up with a revenue-share plan using Google News as a platform and opening the ad spigot. It would benefit itself by turning on another revenue source, and help news publishers by paying them according to the number of clicks through to their content by Google News users. Everybody (not just newspapers, but any website publisher that produces news and is tracked by Google News) wins, and publishers have less reason to saber-rattle and threaten to commit hari-kari by walling off some of their content.

Will Google do this? I’ve used my contact network to try to get the idea in front of Google CEO Eric Schmidt; I know at least that his personal PR rep has it and I hope passed it on. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to reach Krishna Bharat, Google’s chief scientist and the original developer of Google News, but he’s ignored me so far (despite that I met him a few weeks ago at Stanford as he and 4 other people interviewed me for a fellowship). Apparently my powers of influence at mighty Google are nil.

The AP and the newspaper industry (still) have power. How about if instead of threatening Google, the news industry joins forces to approach Google with a plan that would allow it to fully turn on the Google News ad spigot; financially support the entire community of news providers, new and old (this is NOT just about newspapers); and provide a way to improve Google News by establishing new methods for identifying the original sources of news so that they can be put at the top of relevant Google News pages and search results?

Newspapers’ and the AP’s approach to Google cannot be adversarial. It must be designed not only to help the news industry, but to benefit Google’s shareholders!

Yeah, I know, AP’s Curley “says,” as he did on the Charlie Rose interview and elsewhere, that the AP is not targeting Google. (Google is a paying AP customer, after all.) But it’s not difficult to read through the lines.

When I read comments by people like AP Chairman Dean Singleton, who told the Newspaper Association of America recently, “We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories,” and press baron Rupert Murdoch say, “Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights? Thanks, but no thanks,” visions of the RIAA ring in my head. Those guys need to stand on their heads and look at the situation from a new perspective.

If they can achieve an intelligent dialog with Google and come up with a plan that benefits both sides, then newspapers can follow Huffington’s advice (of which I concur, 100%), and do everything they can to get their content everywhere possible online. Monetize it not just within your walled garden (website), but on every blog or website that your content appears on.

Newspapers and other old-mindset news providers are panicking. They need money! Now! I think they might find it if they stand on their heads.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!