Chart of the Day: The Influence of Google in News Traffic

One month ago, Bob Woodward told a media conference that the tombstone of Google's former CEO Eric Schmidt will read "I killed newspapers." This claim was disputable, for at least three reasons:

-- First, newspapers (which are still a $30 billion business!) started their current decline before Google existed.
-- Second, even if the Internet has slowly wrung life from newspapers' ailing business model, it's not fair to blame one of its many assassins for murdering the whole industry. Craigslist, Zappos, Groupon, Carmax ... these sites all share the "blame."
-- Third, if newspapers declined because readers found better ways to get news, then we, the consumers, are at least as responsible for newspapers' demise.

Today, we have another piece of evidence in the matter of Bob Woodward vs. Google. Consider it an amicus brief for the defendant. Among nationally recognized news brands -- CNN, New York Times, Huffington Post -- Google accounts on average for 30% of their traffic, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Google News refers about 70% of its traffic to news sites, and large newspapers benefit the most. The New York Times, CNN and ABC news each receive about a seventh of Google News' total traffic. The other brands outlets benefit too. Here's the impact of Google sites (including search, news, and maps) on traffic across some recognized news brands:




What strikes me from this graph is the gigantic amount of traffic directed to sites whose impact, even without Google, would still be gigantic. I wonder if the best way to think about Google's impact on online news traffic is like an interstate highway without many off-ramps. The great thing about such a highway is that it would connect people with big cities very quickly. The bad news is that, by encouraging people to drive back and forth between big cities, it would leave smaller cities in the dust. Forty years ago, the Eastern seaboard was pocketed with city papers whose print edition was dominant among locals. Now everybody under 30 eschews paper altogether and just hits up the Google interstate to NYTimes.com and CNN.com (or goes to those homepages directly).



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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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