Media veterans attack Google News

Media heavyweights have condemned Google News, accusing the search company’s news service of stifling their profits by infringing on their audience.

Speaking at the Online Publishers Association, veteran journalists from The Times and The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) attacked the Californian giant’s news website for relying on newspaper headlines.

The idea Google is profiting off journalists and headline writers the world over was raised by Phillipe Janet, an online news executive with French newspaper Les Echos.

He claimed Google News and other online aggregators should be banned form “stealing content and revenues from newspapers,” The Guardian reported.

“If you want to support newspapers, you should visit them directly,” Janet was quoted as saying.

“Google News is a very bad product. It has no business model, no cost and no quality.

"I don't say that Google News has to die, but we prefer to have a contract with services like Lexis Nexis to give us money and audience. Google News just gives us audience.”

Zach Leonard, digital boss for The Times, reportedly joined the attack, amid further hints from the World Association of Newspapers that media portals would desert the service if adverts were introduced.

“Just because there aren't ads on the service today, it doesn't mean they won't be there tomorrow," said Ali Rahnema, the Association’s managing director.

"In fact, I'd be very disappointed in Google if they didn't monetize it," he mused.

Other industry speakers said that although Google provided tremendous traffic, it was not enough to compensate for the lost revenue, content and readers.

The search company admitted to Freelance UK its flagship news service does “rely” on the editorial judgement of online news companies to decide which stories are most deserving of “inclusion and prominence” on Google News.

In a recent statement, Google added, “Google News has no human editors selecting stories or deciding which ones deserve top placement. Our headlines are selected by computer algorithms, based on factors including how often and on what sites a story appears online.

“This is very much in the tradition of Google web search, which relies heavily on the collective judgment of online publishers to determine which sites offer the most valuable and relevant information.”

Responding to how the website operates, Google said its grouping technology examines numerous data points for each article published by the Google News sources, including the titles, text and publication time, among others.

“We then use various clustering algorithms to identify articles we think are closely related,” the company said.

In line with the rapid pace of technology, The Online Publishers Association heard from some commentators that aggregation was a reality that media executives of both the digital and print worlds should accept.

But Mr Rahnema, of the World Association, which represents 72 national newspaper associations, warned media rebellion would only come if Google sought to insert adverts on newspaper headlines appearing in the News service.

“I could take all the best stories from the newspapers and photocopy them and hand them out as a piece of photocopied crap," he said.

"But until I start putting advertising into it, I don't think newspapers would care."

His colleague at the Association, Larry Kilman, said the media industry is finally waking up to the fact that search engine companies and news aggregators are taking newspaper content for free.

“There is no doubt that search engines do provide benefit to newspapers in terms of the traffic they generate,” he conceded.

“The problem lies in the fact that these companies are using the content they collect to build advertising-financed sites that compete directly with the news sites of traditional publishers - and they are using the publishers very own content to do so.”

He added certain fables surrounding the internet need to be challenged on behalf of a long list of media professionals, including online headline writers.

“There is a concept that has grown up around the internet that ’information should be free.’ And while that has a nice sound to it, it ignores the reality of producing quality information,” Kilman, the Associations’ director of communications told delegates.

“Even if Google is only taking a headline and one paragraph, it’s the tip of the iceberg - that lead paragraph wouldn’t exist without the rest of the story, which took time and effort and investment.”

Content on Google News “does not come out of the air,” he added, before asking, “Why should Google benefit if they haven’t contributed to the creation of this content?”

Kilman said a new WAN initiative should be created, involving international organisations representing newspapers, magazines and book publishers, to seek recompense for the content taken by the search engine companies.

A task force including these organisations was formed in January to explore ways to challenge the exploitation of content by search engine companies without fair compensation to copyright holders.


7th March 2006

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