Google-and-the-News: A Clash of World Views

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A reader who works for a major news organization writes in skepticism about the arguments I quoted from many Google officials saying that of course people would end up paying for information on the Internet:

I'm in the camp confused by Google's belief that people will pay for news sometime in the future. On one hand, I'm sure this is true -- after all, even in this era of purportedly free information, an elite segment of society currently pays for very specific newsletters tailored to their own proprietary interests, be they of the energy or defense and intelligence information. But I don't quite understand how and why the general news consumer will pay for news barring some sort of copyright-protection indexing that one of your commenters mentions. In this future when people will pay for news, whats to stop me (as a by then presumably out of work journalist) from subscribing to the few remaining news generators and simply rewriting their articles and posting them for free on my web site? Absent a mechanism that prevents that from happening I really can't understand what these Google people are saying....

My own personal view is that the media universe in 10 years will be great for the elite and degraded for most other people. The elite will have a wider selection of gated products (by which I'm referring not to the wsj or ft but new versions of, say, Jane's), while your average consumer will be awash in free and low-quality information.

Of course no one can prove now whether the confident predictions by various Google officials will prove accurate. Of course, too, theirs are the kind of predictions people in the press (including me) would like to believe, since they are so much less bleak than what we're used to hearing. And of course, most of all, the fact Neal Mohan, Krishna Bharat, Nikesh Arora, Eric Schmidt et al are "experts" in online advertising does not prove that they are right -- much of my journalistic life has involved the demonstration of where "experts" are grossly wrong. They could be fooling themselves or putting out a coherent line to deflect criticism by fooling the rest of us.

Nonetheless, as simple reportage* I observe this fact: people in the "old media," who have seen the carnage of the past decade, tend to assume that nothing can be done to change the trends. People at Google, who have seen the creation of countless new markets in the past decade, tend to be optimistic in the ways I described -- and are willing to put their names behind their predictions. ("I am quite sure this will happen" -- Eric Schmidt, in talking about the revival of the paid-subscription model on mobile devices.) The very fact of their positive outlook is worth noting, as a counter to the conventional tone of doom. We will see whose world view turns out to be closer to the truth.
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* I was alluding to this basic contrast in outlook and assumptions in this part of the article:

The differences [in both diagnosis and prescription] are natural, given the cultural chasm that separates a wildly successful, collectively cocky, engineer-dominated, very internationally staffed West Coast tech start-up from a national news establishment that is its opposite in all ways: East Coast-centric, liberal arts-heavy, less international in staff and leadership (more Brits and Australians than in the tech industry, fewer Indians, Chinese, and Russians), dominated by organizations founded in the distant past, and at the moment strikingly downcast and even panicked.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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