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Dying old media demands affirmative action on Google

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 24, 2009 11:31 AM

This would be funny if it were not so pathetic. Newspaper publishers want Google to adjust its search engine rankings to give preferential treatment to Old Media. The industry is in trouble and it’s looking for any help it can get — and anyone to blame:

Major media companies are increasingly lobbying Google to elevate their expensive professional content within the search engine’s undifferentiated slush of results.

Many publishers resent the criteria Google uses to pick top results, starting with the original PageRank formula that depended on how many links a page got. But crumbling ad revenue is lending their push more urgency; this is no time to show up on the third page of Google search results. And as publishers renew efforts to sell some content online, moreover, they’re newly upset that Google’s algorithm penalizes paid content.

“You should not have a system,” one content executive said, “where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately.”

Last November John Kosner, ESPN’s digital-media senior VP, renewed the charge at a meeting of Google’s Publishers Advisory Council, a small, invitation-only group for professional publishers to pow-wow confidentially with the search giant. Members include BusinessWeek, ESPN, Hearst, Meredith, The New York Times, Time Inc. and The Wall Street Journal. “This wasn’t the first time that it had been raised, but John certainly put a bright spotlight on it,” said one person in attendance.

Then in January, Martin Nisenholtz, New York Times Co. senior VP-digital operations, got up at the annual Online Publishers Association summit in Florida, an event closed to the press, to blast both the algorithm and the results presentation on the screen.

He’d just run a search for Gaza, which had been at war with Israel since Dec. 27. Google returned links to outdated BBC stories, Wikipedia entries and even an anti-Semitic YouTube video well before coverage by the Times, which had an experienced reporter covering the war from inside Gaza itself.

Search results for “Gaza” on March 20 began with two Wikipedia links, a March 19 BBC report, two video clips of unclear origin, the CIA World Factbook, a Guardian report and, most strikingly, a link to Gaza-related messages on Twitter.

“Parasites?” New media sources including blogs and Twitter increasingly provide original content and news-breaking ahead of the newspapers. Their commentary and analysis on everything from the war to the financial meltdown are often ahead of the curve and more informative. They have threatened the dinosaur monopoly, and now the MSM needs a Google rescue plan.

I don’t often agree with Michael Wolff, but this is exactly right:

Not everyone supports the publishers’ push. “It’s the plaintive cry of people who have lost their monopoly trying to scrounge a little of it back,” said Michael Wolff, Vanity Fair columnist and founder of Newser, which aggregates and links news from around the web. “Sometimes it’s true that you’d rather get what The New York Times has to say about something rather than a host of bloggers. But more interestingly it’s not always true. And it is in fact less and less true.”

Daniel Sung at Tech Digest lambastes the big media lobbyists:

Much of the Google’s search algorithm is based on how many links a page has. So, the more popular and better written or designed something is, the higher ranking it has. It doesn’t make any difference who you are. If your content is wonderful then your efforts, your work and your genius will be recognised.

If I want a broadsheet’s representation of the news then I’ll go and buy a newspaper, or I’ll wait to see what Moira Stewart has to say about it later. If I want to be entertained, if I want to read around or if I just want a more human view on events, I’ll take a look at the web.

The really sad part of all of this is that apparently Google is considering changing they way they do things. They’ve held closed door meetings with the big publishers and plan to do so again. If they altered their algorithm and pandered to the cries of the publishers, then the internet would change in the most perverse and profound way in its 20-year existence. If you take away its democracy, you take away its very ethos and the web becomes an evolution of print rather than a new media in its own right.

Why on Earth should Google allow the big publishers the right to take the internet as their own? They have no more claim to it than anyone else and, as some of the slowest off the mark and it’s least understanding users, I’d argue they actually have less. They never link to other articles when the rest of the community links to everyone else, even if that means ignoring the original source.

Just like the record industry, they need to spend less time whining that their business models are falling apart and more time learning how to use the new world to their advantage. Nobody owes them a living.

Keep an eye on this. If the newspapers don’t get their way, I have a feeling Nancy Pelosi is going to step in.

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