Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re the newspaper industry. Your ranks are dwindling as even old stalwarts are dropping like flies. You’re pretty much clueless about the online information economy. You’re even resorting to using your old nemesis, video, to attract online viewers.
So now what? Oh, I know! Let’s lash out at Google. Clearly, the failings of a centuries-old industry to adapt to a new communication paradigm are all Google’s fault. (What isn’t?) As reported by Business Week, because this is the logical route to take (DUH!),
the AP plans to build an online destination where it hopes Web users can easily find and read its news stories and those of other content creators. When it comes to compiling online news, the AP wants to out-Google Google. The Web search giant “has a wacky algorithm” for collecting news stories, AP Chief Executive Tom Curley says in an interview. “It does not lead people to authoritative sources.”
(Do we need another link this week to ZDNet’s Larry Dignan and his documentation on how the AP isn’t an authoritative source in the first place?)
Danny Sullivan took this kind of thinking to task yesterday:
Newspapers get special treatment, both with First Click Free and with the extraordinary amount of traffic they get from Google. And while their top managers go off on renewed Google rampages, they still continue to work to get even more traffic. It is stunning hypocrisy, and certainly not what you’d expect from smart business people. But given how badly their papers seem to be going, I suppose they aren’t so smart.
And now Google CEO Eric Schmidt is stepping up to the plate to defend Google News, via paidContent:
Asked at the Newspaper Association of America conference in San Diego today if there’s a way to tweak the algorithm to lean towards “credible brands,” Schmidt explained: “We actually do that in the case of Google News. Google News uses a relatively fixed set of sources which are selected based on exactly the kind of trust that you’re describing.”
But general search is another matter: “We’ve been careful not to bias it using our own judgment of trust because we’re never sure if we get it right. So we use complicated ranking signals, as they’re called, to determine rank and relevance. And we change them periodically, which drives everybody crazy, as or algorithms get better. … The usual problem is you’ve got somebody who really is very trustworthy, but they’re not as well-known and they compete against people who are better known, and they don’t—in their view—get high enough ranking. We have not come up with a way to algorithmically handle that in a coherent way.”
And even if Google does solve that, it won’t necessarily favor news organizations: “We don’t want to do the kind of thing you’re describing unless we can do it across the board and for all categories of trusted institutions, not just newspapers.”
The bottom line? Love it or hate it, Google is how people find things on the Internet. If you don’t want Google to use/abuse (depending on your POV) your content, hello robots.txt. But if you want to take advantage of the traffic that Google can send your way, it’s time to stop griping and start adapting, newspapers.
What do you think: can newspapers ultimately adapt enough to find their place on the web, or is it too little, too late?