Newspapers: Google's Just Not That Into You

It’s becoming almost poignant, the dance between slick, friendly, but withholding Google and those slightly shabby, lovelorn newspapers, who want so badly for this relationship to work out.   We’d be so good together, the newspapers say. With your money and our incredible journalistic brains … who knows how far we could go! We do […]

It’s becoming almost poignant, the dance between slick, friendly, but withholding Google and those slightly shabby, lovelorn newspapers, who want so badly for this relationship to work out.

 

We’d be so good together, the newspapers say. With your money and our incredible journalistic brains … who knows how far we could go!

We do like you an awful lot, replies Google — you’re our partners! It’s just we don’t see it really as an owner-type relationship.

But we do have some advice for you — which we tell you only because we like you so much. Those … articles you publish? We need to talk about those. You really should do something about them.

 

Maybe we can help you make them better — more like the kinds of articles people want to read. That way, you’ll get more ads, and then we’ll have even more money.

 

To help you with, of course.

(sigh.)

 

Newspaper people have been reporting for months that Google maybe, possibly, at some point, might have, but not really, but could have, and still even might, buy a newspaper. Or maybe it'll help a newspaper (or maybe all newspapers!) survive by becoming nonprofit.

 

And Google, for its part, has been just vague enough to keep this speculation alive.

The headline in a Financial Times article posted Wednesday seemed to be confirming that, in fact, they'd thought seriously about a relationship but have decided to remain single: “Google Drops Idea to Buy Newspaper.”

The article, which accompanied a videotaped interview with CEO Eric Schmidt, said, “Google has considered buying a newspaper or using its charitable arm to support news businesses seeking nonprofit status, but is now unlikely to pursue either option, Eric Schmidt, chairman and chief executive, told the Financial Times.”

Here was, apparently, confirmation that Google had considered taking things to another level.

But as Silicon Alley Insider points out, Schmidt didn’t really say that. Watching the 10-minute video, SAI is right.

What Schmidt told the FT: “We’ve actually looked at this, and we’re trying to avoid crossing the line,” he said.

 

That’s it. It sounds like it did not go anywhere near tire-kicking. Let alone ring-shopping.

Listening to him, the idea that Google would ever own an individual newspaper — given what their business is — seems ludicrous. And the idea that Google would facilitate some transition for newspapers, as an industry or individually, into nonprofit status also seems far-fetched.

It's not so much that Schmidt is a tease (though he is a little) but that newspapers are so willing to take crumbs of his attention, put them on a tray and call them cookies.

What Schmidt says Google wants: “We are very interested in trying to develop online news versions that somehow address the immediate needs of people and for which advertising works better.”

How would those two things happen? “Newspapers that I read online should remember what I read and allow me to go deeper in to the story.”

If Google could figure out a way to do that, he continued, they would use it to benefit all  newspapers:

“We typically don’t do exclusives because everybody benefits from innovation … If we come up with a great product in this area, we’ll make it available to everybody … It’s too important to our users. How do you make something which is so infinitely satisfying that people cannot put it down, in the new form?”

Ah, that old question. If some newspaper could do that, I bet Google might even rethink their business enough to look seriously at the idea of buying it. Even Warren Beatty got married eventually.

Then again, there’s George Clooney.

 

So what about the question of Google helping newspapers make the transition to nonprofit status? As the FT points out, that would be a good job for the Google Foundation.

Schmidt’s answer to that was brusque: “The Google Foundation is busy doing other things.”

Newspapers, you need to understand that all this constitutes rejection. But there are things you can learn from every rejection! Listen to Schmidt’s advice. (He means well.) Allow people to “go deeper” into the story.

 

While you’re at it, work on making it all “infinitely satisfying.” That should do the trick.