The Web is More than a Way to Sell Newspapers

Paul Maidment writes in about a meeting of newspaper execs facing the new Internet publishing world.

“Even the mighty minds behind Google took several years to realize that they were a media company, not a tech company. But they and their fellow West Coasters have invented a new way of presenting journalism, through aggregation rather than creation.

They have also invented a new way of consuming it, through search, and have found new expression to an age-old publishing truth–that if you can gather an audience, you can make money. In doing so, they have been ripping out the commercial heart of the newspaper industry, its classified ads business.

What was missing was audacious imagination. The U.S. industry already had a national news co-op, the Associated Press. Could it have held the space now occupied by Google News and Yahoo! News and done the job better as it both creates and aggregates news? As well as the stories written by its staff, one-fifth to one-quarter of the stores carried on the AP wire come from its owner newspapers but remains within the gated community of its members.

There was no call to throw open the gates. But this is not to pick on our friends at the AP, which is now reorganizing its business to serve the new world (and is a news supplier to this site). The whole industry was slow to recognize that the Web is not a proprietary medium, like print, but a distributed one.

Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft understood that the consumer need was not newspapers but news. Yet for years the newspaper industry thought the purpose of going online was to drive people to read newspapers. The futility of that task is at last beginning to sink in.”