Publishers, as familiar with their referral numbers as Google is, are coming around to that view. In fact, Murdoch's transition suggests, they have pretty much finished the coming around. In the broad sense of the long game, Google News is very much a product of its parent company: The service saw where things were going. It built tools that reflected that direction. And then it waited, patiently, for everyone else to catch up.
As far as the Google/news relationship goes, though, numbers are only half the story. Google has reiterated its stats -- did we mention billions, with a b? -- to, yes, pretty much anyone who will listen. But it has also tackled its industry publicity problem more strategically, in a way that even more explicitly emphasizes the "Google" component of "Google News": It has ingratiated itself to the news industry iteratively, experimentally, and incrementally.
Google added to its team of engineers staff members with backgrounds in journalism, people whose jobs were to interact -- or, in Google-ese, to "interface" -- with news producers. It experimented with new ways of processing and presenting journalism -- Fast Flip, Living Stories -- and framed them as tools that could help journalists to better do their jobs. It introduced sitemaps meant to give publishers greater control over how their articles get included on the Google News homepage. Responding to outlets' frustrations that their original work was getting lost among the work of aggregators, Google created a new tag that publishers could use to flag standout stories for Google News's crawlers. Responding to a new cultural emphasis on the role of individual writers, Google integrated authors' social profiles into their displayed bylines. And, nodding to a news industry that values curation, it implemented Editors' Picks, which allows news organizations themselves, independently of the Google News algorithm, to curate content to be displayed on the Google News homepage. (The Atlantic is included in the Editor's Picks feature.)
All those developments, on some level, have been concessions to an indignant industry. Which is also to say, they have been concessions to an industry that is not populated by engineers. When Google News launched in 2002, it's worth remembering, it did so with the following, delightfully Google-y declaration: "This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors. No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page." Since then, as news publishers have emphasized to Google how human a process news production actually is, the company's news platform has -- carefully, incrementally, strategically -- found ways to balance its core algorithmic approach with more human concerns.
There have been the product-level innovations. There have been the public declarations. (Schmidt, in addition to his pro-journalism speeches, wrote op-eds re-professing his love of the news. Bharat spent a year as a professional-in-residence at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.) But, less obviously and less visibly, there has also been the infrastructural effort Google has put into making the news industry a colleague rather than a competitor. "There's a reporting aspect to it," says David Smydra, Google News's manager of strategic partnerships and himself a former reporter. Google tries to figure out what would help news producers to produce better content, he told me, and responds accordingly. With that in mind, Google News staffers have made themselves a friendly and patient and constant presence at journalism conferences and industry events. They have offered tutorials on making use of Google News and other Google tools. They have written explainers on becoming a Google News source in the first place. They have visited individual newsrooms to meet with publishers and other news producers, listening to their concerns and imagining innovations that might prove useful to outlets as well as users. They have reiterated, in ways both subtle and explicit, their good intentions. If Google News is a vampire, it is an incredibly perky one.