Sunday, May 24, 2009

Google's Partial Answer

A little while ago, this blog wondered why, with so many other philanthropies entering the realm of journalism, Google hadn't made a foray through its subsidiary. Now, we have an answer from CEO Eric Schmidt - or at least part of one.

Turns out, Google is "trying to avoid crossing the line" between technology and content. At least this is what Schmidt told the Financial Times when he was asked why Google hadn't bought a newspaper company. Schmidt reportedly said:

There’s a debate in the industry of exactly how to get it but, ultimately, the problem is not us taking money from some other pocket and subsidizing it, ultimately the solution is to build products that really are so good that we make enough money from advertising and subscriptions, to a degree, that they make sense and that there’s enough money to pay for the construction of this high-quality content.

Let me see if I've got this right. Google doesn't want to invest in creation of high-quality content because it hasn't yet figured out how to make enough money pasting ads onto the content it's already squeezing out of a dying industry. The real answer probably has more to do with appearances and Google's desire not to look like it is creating a vertical monopoly in news and information.

But his quote notwithstanding, Schmidt is no disinterested bystander in the debate over the future of news and the growing role of nonprofits in producing it. In his spare time, Schmidt is chairman of the New America Foundation, which has sponsored two forums this month on what will become of enterprise and investigative journalism as fewer newspapers can afford to underwrite it.

Maybe Google doesn't want to cross the line, but Schmidt clearly has no hesitation.

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