Google and other search engines have been caught in the cross-hairs of Rupert Murdoch's vitriolic attacks regarding content control. In the age of citizen journalism that is slowly melding into semantic technology before our very eyes, Murdoch's posturing is pure theatrics and his business model is outdated. The era of legacy of newspapers is waning and the titan of the tabloids needs to take heed.
In his Wall Street Journal rant on December 8 titled, "Freedom and Journalism," he states that "some newspapers and news organizations will not adapt to the digital realities of the day - and they will fail." The irony of that statement is that Murdoch is indeed one of those news organizations.
His petition is an attempt to rally legacy newspaper companies to attack the hand that feeds by demanding that search engines no longer have free access to their content. Murdoch's News Corporation has been a vocal opponent of Google indexing news websites and makes claims that search engines have been partially responsible for the damaging economy of news and information.
Other contradictions exist in Murdoch's logic. While he talks about the inherent freedom of the people, he counters it with his belief that "quality content is not free." While print newspapers subscriptions have dwindled down to nothing over the years (even prior to any competition from the Internet), he believes that today's more savvy and digitally informed public should now pay for content we stopped paying for in the last century?
Furthermore, since Murdoch admits to 'online advertising' revenues increasing over print advertising, if he starts charging for online subscriptions, doesn't he run the risk of less advertising click-thrus, based on a smaller subscription base?
Murdoch assails Google and other search engines as "news aggregators," who feed off of the"hard-earned efforts and investments of others" and calls "their almost misappropriation of our stories...theft." In this lengthy interview with Sky News' political editor David Speers, Murdoch continues his tirade regarding pay-walls and political involvement by governments.
Subsequently, many representatives of the new media have come forward opposing Murdoch's position as being outdated and lacking foresight. In my blog titled, "Mr Murdoch, Tear Down This Wall Infers Biz Stone," I quote Biz Stone who believes that,"The future is in openness not [being] closed." At an event organized by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in London, he notes, "they (Rupert's newspaper syndicate) should be looking at this as an opportunity to try something radically different and find out a way to make a ton of money from being radically open rather than some money from being ridiculously closed."
Nonetheless, Murdoch's words have not fallen on deft ears. After all, he is a mogul that knows how to throw his weight around. On December 1, Google announced some changes to Google News. It stated it would begin to allow publishers to control how much of their content could be viewed by a Google News user before a pay-wall requires payment for a subscription. As a 'win' for Murdoch, a few days later Google made a further concession allowing publishers to opt-out of Google News altogether.
As an additional appeasement, Google has released Google's Living Stories which is a collaboration with the New York Times and the Washington Post that allows for a new means to disseminate the news online. Based on citizen journalism embracing real-time technology, the premise of Living Stories is to centralize news topics under a single URL where they can be updated in real-time as the story is evolving. These stories currently can be found on Google, but we're told they will be migrated over to the New York Times and the Washington Post early next year.
Living Stories also allows readers to explore stories by theme, the characters involved or by multimedia coverage. Each time you return to the story, the newer developments are highlighted and older news is summarised.
UPDATE: January 1, 2010 - "Living Stories" was added to Google News page for quicker and easier reference.
Living Stories added to Google News Page
However, Google did not stop with Living Stories. In tandem with that project, they have also developed Fast Flip which is another tool for news organizations and their readers. Instead of scanning headlines, it offers a visually oriented browsing experience featuring screen-shots of stories from its news partners.
In December, The Telegraph, Independent and Daily Express joined Fast Flip. The UK news groups are among more the additional 24 publications that have become part of Google's experiment today including the Hufffington Post, Los Angeles Times and Reuters.
The visual approach of Fast Flip seems to be a step in the right direction. As several recent experiments by the New York Times show, news organisations realise that the packaging and presentation of news is a key issue for reaching out to the reader. The Independent's Jimmy Leach, editorial director for the digital, says: "There's lots of talk about the future for online newspapers, and we're all feeling our way to different answers. There are no certainties, but having more readers can only be a good thing and we're happy to experiment with Google and Fast Flip as a way of drawing in more readers, making our brand more accessible to people and making the experience of reading our content a more enjoyable one. It'll be very interesting to see where it takes us."
Obviously Murdoch's New York Post and the Wall Street Journal do not see Google's new products as an Andreas Pourosappeasement, nor an attempt at a meeting of the minds. Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer for the search marketing agency Greenlight Search believes that for Google, "the efficient and effective incorporation of news into the user search experience is a key objective in its wider mission (and)both parties have something the other needs - publishers have content, Google has distribution. So surely collaboration is both good and inevitable?"
With a global media empire stretching across four continents, with assets in television, newspapers, the Internet, films and books, Rupert Murdoch will continue to hold center stage with this debate. But like Shakespeare's tragic figure of King Lear - are we looking at a tired impetuous man who is blinded to every thing but that which dictates his passion? And will his dated perception of the world ultimately prove his undoing?
Like Lear, Murdoch is crazy like a fox. Perhaps if he used the brilliance that made him an early success and listened to the voice of his new readership, he might begin to understand that a sea change was occurring while he was building his massive empire. And that as mighty as his sword might still be, he is just wailing against the wind!