Watchdog Blog

Dan Froomkin: What Google Can Do for Journalism

Posted at 1:28 pm, January 7th, 2009
Dan Froomkin Mug

Via Romenesko, I see Google CEO Eric Schmidt telling Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky that he wants to help newspapers survive – he just doesn’t know how.

“What if the newspaper industry does go down?” Lashinsky asks.

Schmidt replies: “To me this presents a real tragedy in the sense that journalism is a central part of democracy. And if it can’t be funded because of these business problems, then that’s a real loss in terms of voices and diversity. And I don’t think bloggers make up the difference. The historic model of investigative journalists in any industry is something that is very fundamental. So the question is, What can you do about this? I think it is a fair statement to say we’re still looking for the right answer.”

There may indeed be nothing Google can do to boost print circulation. But there’s plenty Google can do to help the news industry, which is terrified about the loss of print circulation primarily because it hasn’t yet found a way to comparably monetize its journalism online. There’s also plenty Google can do to maintain or even increase the amount of quality journalism available on the Internet.

Off the top of my head:

  • “Adopt” a handful of newspapers, and help them build technologically-sophisticated Web sites, with an emphasis on micro-local and business-to-consumer relationships. For instance, local papers need ways to database local advertising, local content, and information on local readers — then serve up ads based on psycho-graphic and geographic information. Newspapers can’t seem to figure this out by themselves. Then make the technology available to others.
  • Create and endow an independent nonprofit; put esteemed journalists on its board; let them buy newspapers from owners who are wringing them dry and run them as nonprofits.
  • Create an open-source journalism wire service, hiring excellent laid-off reporters to do great narrative and investigative work that’s free for the picking.
  • Fund a short-term project to hire laid-off journalists from across the country, connect them virtually with hot programmers, and see what they come up with.
  • Create a journalist-mediated repository of citizen journalism. Hire professional journalists to “accredit” excellent citizen journalism and train citizen journalists.
  • Create “endowed chairs” for bloggers who can then quit their day-jobs and do actual reporting as well as blogging.
  • Contribute to nonprofit journalistic ventures and foundations, i.e. ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, – and

Got more ideas? Post them below!

29 Responses to “What Google Can Do for Journalism”

  1. Joel Kramer says:

    Great ideas, but I’d add that Google could support the growing number of local not-for-profit news websites that are trying to find a new model for high-quality regional journalism. At MinnPost, for example, we are on a path to being self-sustaining by 2012 from advertising, sponsorship and membership revenue — but we need the help of some deep philanthropic pockets between now and then.

  2. Robert Perez says:

    Seems to me a much simpler way to help newspapers is to quit lifting their content without paying for it. It’s likely way too late to try to get the Googles and Yahoos of the world to actually pay for the content that drives much of their sites, but it’s more than ironic and a bit hypocritical for Schmidt to be at a loss for ideas.

  3. Dan Froomkin says:

    Robert: I’ve always been a bit puzzled by this argument. In what way does Google lift our content? They *link* to it. We should be pleased — and most of us I think are. Without the traffic Google sends us, we’d be a lot poorer. There could be an argument made that AP and the other wire services shouldn’t sell Google (or Yahoo, or AOL) their content — no matter what the price — so that people would have to come to news sites. But do we really want Google to stop linking to us? I think not.

  4. Yasser Alghaslan says:

    Just wanted to say, this is a very interesting approach to the problem, although I don’t see the possibility of implementing most of your ideas in smaller markets like the Middle East for deferent reasons, including weak copyright laws.
    All the best

  5. DS says:

    Very intriguing points, though I’m much more interested in your suggestions for Google to share knowledge, rather than simply pour cash into various projects. Your list is almost entirely presented with your hand out, looking for a financial bailout.

    Let’s not overlook the fact that reporters and editors have largely been resistant to change — 5 years ago, if Google offered reporters and editors training in how to write search-friendly discoverable headlines (meaning: lose the clever wordplay), how many would have embraced that as the new reality for how consumers want their information delivered — how they seek it out?

    Also, here is a bit of an off-topic, but related aside: How many of these journalists would be willing to take the necessary pay cut to work within a non-profit environment? I guess it beats being unemployed — and unemployable.

    I guess what I haven’t seen so far is the real drive for innovation coming out of newsrooms, even in the current environment; it would be nice to see them thinking and acting as innovatively as the company we’re now asking for a handout. Your ideas are a start, but I’m not quite sure the existing journalism management establishment could pull it off — they have displayed none of the innovative thinking necessary so far to indicate they would do it in the future.

  6. Robert Perez says:

    Dan: I’ve heard that argument before, and I believe it has some merit in the short run. Those hits to local newspaper or television Web sites might boost numbers in a local market on any given day. But your argument doesn’t address the long-term issue of where readers will turn to for news in the future.

    We have a generation of potential newspaper (online or print)readers that will be lost because they associate news with the favorite home page (Yahoo, Google, AOL, etc), not with the particular new source they link to when they find a story they choose to read. Ironically, those home pages may find it harder and harder to fill their space with substantial content if newspapers and other news organizations continue to struggle and die off.

    The suggestions in your column are excellent ways to allow some talented journalists to keep providing an invaluable service to the country. They won’t, however, help newspapers survive.

  7. Ben says:

    DS: Regarding innovation, I agree that newspapers resisted change in the 90s. But in this decade, they’ve been throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks. Critics underestimate the difficulty of changing an industry like this. It’s like trying to take apart an airplane in mid-air and put it back together in some new form without crashing.

  8. I Want My Rocky » Blog Archive » Google CEO talks about help for newspapers says:

    [...] Read the full interview here and Dan Froomkin’s response here. [...]

  9. Howard Weaver says:

    Some interesting notions, but as Jay Rosen notes on Twitter, “Except for the first, these are ideas for Google philanthropy.”

    And while philanthropy can play a role — especially, as you suggest, in leveraging R&D looking for solutions — it won’t save independent journalism. Journalism that isn’t rooted in the community and proved by success in the marketplace simply won’t have the reach, credibility or authority to practice effective accountability journalism.

    You think today’s newspaper companies are slow, detached and unresponsive? Imagine one being run by a university or big NGO. That way lies death — and, more tragically, irrelevancy.

  10. Bill Doskoch says:

    If Google could help newspapers deliver kickass classified ads online, that would go a long way to helping save them as businesses. Right now, newspaper classifieds are obsolete both online and on paper.

  11. pramit singh says:

    excellent ideas.

    i have written a couple of times on the mediavidea blog why google should start with acquiring the new york times and hive it off as a non-profit.

  12. Steve Hobbs says:

    How can Google help? Well, they can stop spouting nonsense like “information wants to be free”. This sort of drivel would be laughable if it were not so damaging to the content creators Google seeks to exploit. Its like saying “apples want to be free” while stealing from an orchard

  13. Michael Hill says:

    Saying that newspapers should be happy that Google links to them is like saying that record companies should have been happy that radio stations played their songs thus driving singles sales. That is true, but the fact is those radio stations made money selling ads around those songs and were forced by ASCAP and BMI to pass some of that along to the record companies. Google should be forced to do the same.

  14. N M Selden says:

    The music recording industry resisted online and Napster, etc forced the issue, and eventually paid models emerged, stimulated by Apple and others. Newspapers embraced offering free online content and now have millions of readers from outside local markets, which need to be monetized. Google might be able to help build a paid model, perhaps based on micropayments, a few cents per pageview of news, with Google sharing revenue with content providers (newspaper sites and independent journalists). The cost to reader/consumers would amount to a few dollars per month, less than a print subscription, but enough to support the costs of journalism.

  15. RW says:

    Schmidt and Google can sigh and wring hands all they want, but it’s all phoniness. Quite simply, the newspapers must summon the backbone to tell Google: Thanks for sending people our way. However, here’s how to register for our website and PAY for this info. Yes, pay to read. If all the top newspapers do this, and mean it — not just for “premium” content — gradually all papers will. No, information is not free.

  16. Ha Soojeong says:

    Yes. Information is not free as it is a form of goods but should be affordable as it is essential to live like bread. Nowadays what kinds and how much information you have means how much will you get. Qualified information is the key to make money. If we charge too much, it means only people who can spend enough budget for searching refined content will be richer and the poors will be remained to be poor or even worse. We can’t take the chances away from ordinary people so we better find indirect way to offset our cost.

    Anyway in Korea, we have been through this as well. All the newspaper have had a contract to sell our content with very humble prices to the big companies like yahoo!, google and other major domestic website about a decade ago. We didn’t expect this would strangle us now. People don’t visit newspaper site to see articles but they are content to see light and spicy news on the front page of the yahoo. Furthermore these big sites made their own way to generate the content by offering blog, community and database. We had long and tough discussion to solve this problem and the resolution at the moment is that the biggest search website offer the names of the newspapers on their front page and each newspaper can edit which articles and titles to be on their box with around 10 titles-it means each newspaper cast their news by herself on that site. Then users choose the newspaper among the list and read articles. Of course the clicks are newspapers and it gave us a double visit only for a week.
    Anyway I have to warn you that do not sell the content if it seemed to be sweet tempt for a short term but soon it will be turning to the poison. Situation like this, only two or three newspapers with guts and fund to enhance multimedia service will survive. It means Newspapers have to gather together to claim their portion as a unit. I think forcing those big companies to pay some percentage of their ad revenue to newspaper companies is applicable idea.

  17. Bill Densmore says:

    The Information Valet Project at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, Univ. of Missouri, is putting together a non-profit collaborative of news- and information-industry players. We aim to build a shared-user network that will allow end users to manage their demographic privacy, personalize their web service, receive compensation for viewing ads and sponsored content — and be able to have one-account, one-ID access to premium content at a network of websites. Google would be a welcome partner in this effort.

    – Bill Densmore, director, Information Valety Project

  18. How Google Could Help Newspapers « News and Views says:

    [...] Nieman Watchdog, Dan Froomkin wrote:  “Via Romenesko, I see Google CEO Eric Schmidt telling Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky that [...]

  19. 对于衰退的报业 Google有5种途径可以出手相救 | 紧跟IT潮流 says:

    [...] Froomkin 在哈佛大学 NeimenWatchdog 上提供了几个建议,如向非营利性项目,如 ProPublica [...]

  20. sailorflat says:

    How about bringing back investigative journalism? During the Bush Administration, propaganda was used in place of real news. I have a picture that was taken in Germany, which states under the pictures of George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler, “Same Sh*t(feces) different A**hole(anal orfice)”. That sums up how the Bush Administration pretty much destroyed the news during their reign of terror.

  21. Notes from a Teacher - What should Google do? says:

    [...] pursue to help journalism thrive. One of those was Dan Froomkin, who, off the top of his head, offered seven ideas that I’d like to take a closer look [...]

  22. Five Things Google Could Do For Newspapers : says:

    [...] Froomkin lists a few suggestions at Harvard University’s NeimenWatchdog, including contributing to non-profit projects like [...]

  23. HorsesAss.Org » Blog Archive » A penny a click says:

    [...] Dan Froomkin: What Google Can Do [...]

  24. Technology Blog » Blog Archive » Five Things Google Could Do For Newspapers says:

    [...] Froomkin lists a few suggestions at Harvard University’s NeimenWatchdog, including contributing to non-profit projects like [...]

  25. Ken says:

    Perez, et. al.: If newspaper sites wish to get Google to keep away from their content, all they need is a simple robots.txt file. Google respects restrictions listed in that file, period (in fact I’m not aware of any major search site that does not).

    Please forward this to any webmaster upset at Google for “stealing” their content.

  26. Voice says:

    Sadly, the death of the newspaper started with the birth of the Associated Press and the death of investigative reporting. These days, newspapers essentially have copywriters on staff. They get press releases and AP stories, and either print them verbatim, or do some simple rewrites to make it look a bit different from the original form.

    Want to save the newspaper, convince them to hire journalists to do *real* reporting. They’ll have to be willing to ask tough questions, and dig into the background to get the real meat of the story, but that’s what it used to mean to be a journalist. Yeah, it’ll be more expensive, but what’s the point of being cheap if it’s just going to drive you into irrelevancy?

  27. Anonimouse says:

    What constitutes journalism has changed. I think it should be recognised that the only people doing serious investigation are the people who are genuinely concerned about an issue and blog about it. There are many special interest bloggers who produce far better informed content than any journalist does. The standard of most journalism seems to be simply to merge a few press releases into an article, without any insight. Relying on a common source such as AP is equally bad; the days when a journalist reported on events as directly as they could have sadly gone.

    Even the fact that a blogger may be biased is not an issue, since it is recognised that many newspapers are similarly tainted.

  28. David Gerard says:

    The Guardian, one of the major quality dailies in the UK, is owned by a nonprofit trust and always has been.

  29. Lilaimath says:

    главное что бесплатно

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