I'm on the other side of the world this next week, rather than being in the fray of the "future of the news" debates inside the US. But I hope you'll read my cover story in the new issue (subscribe!) about how Google got religion on the need to help the news business survive, and what they're doing about it.
On the why-they're-trying front, the story points out that Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, has said that the company can't stand to be seen as "the vulture picking off the dead carcass of the news industry." But what the company is doing, I contend, reflects a deeper sense of symbiosis with people producing the information that Google eventually indexes.
As for why I found this project interesting, I try to explain the difference between discussions of "future of the news" I heard within Google and those I am used to at journalism worry-sessions:
Here's an important illustration of the difference: people inside the press still wage bitter, first-principles debates about whether, in theory, customers will ever be willing to pay for online news, and therefore whether "paywalls" for online news can ever succeed. But at Google, I could hardly interest anyone in the question. The reaction was: Of course people will end up paying in some form--why even talk about it? The important questions involved the details of how they would pay, and for what kind of news. "We have no horse in that race or particular model in mind," Krishna Bharat, one of the executives most deeply involved in Google's journalistic efforts, told me, in a typical comment. His team was already working with some newspapers planning to put their content behind paywalls, others planning to remain free and hoping to become more popular with readers annoyed when paywalls crop up elsewhere, and still others planning a range of free and paid offerings. For Bharat and his colleagues, free-versus-paid is an empirical rather than theological matter. They'll see what works.
Check it out -- plus this slideshow from Hal Varian, long of UC Berkeley and now Google's chief economist, about the basic economics of the news. And, yes, I am aware of the oddity that we are simultaneously offering this article for free online and hoping you will subscribe. The article suggests some ways in which that contradiction will be resolved.
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