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News pundit evangelizes for friends at Google

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Sat, May 22, 2010 at 5:56 pm

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News pundit evangelizes for friends at Google

James Fallows’s cover story in the current Atlantic is titled “Inside Google: The Company’s Daring Plan to Save the News (and itself)”. On the web it’s just “How to Save the News.”

“Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. Few people know how hard Google is trying to bring it back to life, or why the company now considers journalism’s survival crucial to its own prospects.”

I thought the article was a big wet kiss. And I started to make a list of the sources quoted in a piece that says that “having helped break the news business, the company wants to fix it—for commercial as well as civic reasons…”

It’s a view from the Googleplex with no opposing voices.

Google Monitor Blog saw the same lip-lock in “The Atlantic smooches Google in cover story”.

“It was one of the most vacuous 12-page puff pieces I have ever read. Like Jeff Jarvis described: “It doesn’t break a single new nugget of news.” It was the literary equivalent of a puppy jumping up incessantly to lick the face of the person in closest proximity.”

Here’s my list of  Fallows’ sources and how he smooches them. The quotes are all his. Note that only the last source is a person currently involved in the reporting of news.

  • “The company’s chief economist, Hal Varian”
  • “Krishna Bharat, one of the executives most deeply involved in Google’s journalistic efforts”
  • “One Google employee who asked not to be named”
  • “Josh Cohen, a former Web-news manager for Reuters who now directs Google’s dealings with publishers and broadcasters”
  • “Eric Schmidt of Google is an important figure in this saga. By chance, and because he and his wife were Atlantic readers, Schmidt and his family had become friends of my family long before he joined Google as CEO in 2001, and we have stayed in touch. For this story, I did not talk with him except in one official on-the-record interview in late March, after I had finished my other reporting at Google HQ.” [Google Monitor blog notes "While it is commendable that Mr. Fallows mentioned in the article that he is personal friends with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, he failed to disclose that he serves on the New America Foundation Board with Mr. Schmidt and that New America advocates for public policy on journalism questions.”)
  • “Nikesh Arora, who joined Google six years ago and is now president of its global sales operations”
  • “Neal Mohan of Google, who is in charge of working with publishers to develop online display ads”
  • “Chris Gaither, a former technology reporter for the Los Angeles Times who joined Google last year as a communications manager for the news team” [Author's note: "(Small-world department: Gaither worked at The Atlantic as an intern in the mid-1990s and was a student in a class I taught at Berkeley’s journalism school nine years ago.)"
  • “Vijay Ravindran, chief digital officer of the Washington Post Company, said when I asked him about the experiment” [with Google]
  • “Steve Grove, a former ABC news staffer (and another onetime intern for The Atlantic) has worked at Google since just after it acquired YouTube”
  • “Richard Tofel, the general manager of ProPublica, a new nonprofit news organization that conducts investigative-journalism projects, described a similar collaboration”

Near the end is Schmidt’s “utopian” vision:

“It’s obvious that in five or 10 years, most news will be consumed on an electronic device of some sort. Something that is mobile and personal, with a nice color screen. Imagine an iPod or Kindle smart enough to show you stories that are incremental to a story it showed you yesterday, rather than just repetitive. And it knows who your friends are and what they’re reading and think is hot. And it has display advertising with lots of nice color, and more personal and targeted, within the limits of creepiness. And it has a GPS and a radio network and knows what is going on around you. If you think about that, you get to an interesting answer very quickly, involving both subscriptions and ads.”

This is more about ambient advertising and consumer experience than about the organizational challenges of reporting on social and political reality. And who decides when the creepiness limits have been breached?

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This post was written by:

Margot Williams

- who has written 49 posts on Inside Google.

Margot Williams has more than two decades of experience in roles as investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting on terrorism in 2002 and for an investigation of the use of deadly force by the District of Columbia police in 1999. Margot is the co-author of “Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web” (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the “Networkings” column in The Washington Post for five years.

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