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Google Calls Out Luddite Tendencies in FTC’s Newspaper Protection

The debate over old-media news versus new Net-generation news usually rumbles on with all the fiery theatrics of a party sparkler. But not today: Google’s injecting some volcanic ire.

Google News

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The debate over old-media news versus new Net-generation news usually rumbles on with all the fiery theatrics of a party sparkler. But not today: Google’s injecting some volcanic ire.

It’s not new to talk about how Net technology is eroding the bastions of traditional news organizations–heck, even the dear ol’ supposedly-tech-friendly Prez has weighed in on the debate, slightly favoring newsprint. But Google (as a prominent player in the new media game) has evidently had enough of all the anti-Net-news shenanigans, and published a long article denouncing the FTC’s thinking about the “problem.” The FTC prompted this by releasing a staff discussion draft document on the “reinvention” of “journalism” … or “preservation of newspapers” as they’ve reinvented this phrase over at BuzzMachine.com.

The Google piece is a masterful example of how clear, sensibly-stated and logical arguments should be presented to make a compelling case (maybe they were coached by Steve Jobs?). But we’ve dug into it and compressed its message down to readable chunks, complete with quotes for you, anyway:

  • “We agree that the Internet has posed challenges as well as opportunities for publishers. Google works closely with publishers to find business solutions so journalism can thrive.”
  • “The news industry is undergoing significant changes” and news organizations need to find new business models as a result.
  • These models will “only succeed” if they satisfy two groups: Consumers looking for news, and advertisers looking for marketing space to fill.
  • “The current challenges faced by the news industry are business problems, not legal problems” and should be solved by new business-thinking, not legal action.
  • “Newspapers have had periodic business model challenges since before the Internet.”
  • “Over time the emergence of digital media has repeatedly altered the unit of consumption for existing media.” This has happened for music, for video and now news–it’s “simply not a new phenomenon.”
  • “Search engines, blogs and social networks can direct traffic to publishers’ sites, but once readers land on a site” it’s up to the site owners to keep them there by delivering what they want.
  • “The data suggest that publishers have yet to come close to maximizing their ability to attract and keep users engaged with their online offerings.”
  • “The notion that ‘established’ media outlets should have a monopoly (even for a limited period of time) on facts is anachronistic.” Newspapers are waking up to the phenomenon of news being broken on services like Twitter, and happily copy this news, but then cry foul when other similar services republish their “hot news.”
  • “The large profit margins newspapers enjoyed in the past were built on an artificial scarcity: Limited choice for advertisers as well as readers. With the Internet, that scarcity has been taken away and replaced by abundance. No policy proposal will be able to restore newspaper revenues to what they were before the emergence of online news.”

It goes on … but the cut and thrust of the argument is easily expressed in a sentence: Google thinks it is merely retreading an old path — innovating a business into a whole new paradigm — and as well as this business being well overdue for some reinvention, any attempts to protect the old order are artificial, will harm the consumer, and fall foul of First Amendment issues.

Essentially Google is calling the FTC a bunch of Luddites. Luddites with powerful friends, and some notions of legality to their actions, but the name fits. This time the frame-breaking isn’t directed at textile mills which delivered cheaper, better, more ubiquitous material to the consumer, it’s aimed at the mechanisms being invented for timely, efficient and non-monopolistic news sharing … but it’s driven by the same irrational fear of the future.

Is Google accurate? It has 20 pages of carefully argued logic (about how journalism as a noble profession and newspapers should be decoupled in your thinking, given that journalism can also happen online, and should evolve rather than lay stagnant) to back up its arguments. And the FTC has … Rupert Murdoch. Maybe Google could up its share of the pile of cash it spends lobbying toward influencing the FTC.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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