Google No Evil

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Google News is often viewed as “the devil who caused the downfall of journalism or the savior of last resort,” explained Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google News, before a roomful of more than 100 journalists at Google’s Washington, D.C., office last evening. James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly led the discussion with Cohen on “Google, Journalism and the Digital Era.”

Josh Cohen and James Fallows

From a PR perspective, if you’ve tracked the digital footprint of your company, competitors or yourself, you may have noticed that negative stories tend to appear first in search results. From a media perspective, newspapers and paid content providers compete with key word and sponsored searches.

How to crack Google’s algorithm?  Cohen wasn’t offering any suggestions. However, he did assure that subscriber only content (e.g. Wall Street Journal and Financial Times) can be made available in search results, and Google works with publishers to understand their needs and the preferred strength of their pay walls (firm to leaky).

Yet search isn’t the only cause of tensions. Publishers have been slow to offer consumers a unique Web experience that differs from the printed product. “The Internet is intimate. A newspaper is all things to all people,” said Cohen. “That doesn’t work on the Web. You have to add value…. The local monopoly on news is done.”

Fallows framed the conflict, “Information wants to be free, and journalists want to be paid.” After more than a century of owning the news, newspaper publishers must adapt to the new delivery platforms — YouTube, Twitter, Text Messaging — and accept the new competitors — citizen journalists.

Other insights from Cohen:

1) Innovate and be willing to experiment.

2) Personalize the news. Google is working with media to re-envision the user experience. For example, if you have been following a story, certain basic information may be omitted and only the most recent facts would be shared.

3) “The social age of the Web is a hugely important driver informing news.”

4) Free data on the Web is often meaningless as presented. Google offers a means to organize.

5) Advertisers will continue to migrate online. Google is working on the next generation platform of display ads.

6) Mobile access is better overseas. “I got a signal in a coal mine in China.”

Fallows closed the interview asking, “Who will catch Google napping?”

“The nature of the Web is fiercely competitive,” replied Cohen. “We remained focused. Search is not solved.”

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