Sean Schulte

Twitter: @sirsean


For some reason people ascribe some sort of magical significance to "newspapers," as if there can't be "news" without "paper," and if information is distributed in some non-tree-killing fashion, the world is sure to collapse post-haste. In a strangely anti-Google-and-all-those-nerds-on-the-internet screed, "Henry Porter" drops this little nugget:
In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." A moment's thought must tell us that he is still right: newspapers are the only means of holding local hospitals, schools, councils and the police to account, and on a national level they are absolutely essential for the good functioning of democracy.
Perhaps, but two moments of thought would tell you that it's not the mystical process of printing ink onto paper that keeps government functions accountable, either on a local or national level*. It is in fact the content that is created, and the fact that it is distributed to the people to whom it's important and useful. * Don't services like YouTube and all the various blogs out there that shed light on police injustices (along with photo and video evidence) kind of put the lie to this theory? It seems kind of obvious the internet offers a much more effective way of distributing information and protecting citizens' rights than anything the newspapers were ever able to do. Can't "websites" offer local information about hospitals, schools, councils, and police in the same way -- or better -- than "newspapers" could? Three moments of thought might get you to realize that it simply makes no sense to print information, repeated millions of times per day, every day, with low quality ink on low quality paper, and pay people to manually deliver it to every home? Especially when that same content can be beamed into those same homes, at nearly no cost, without cutting down trees or wasting money? Do you think that if Gutenberg had had the option of beaming his content to every house in Europe rather than painstakingly setting his type and distributing the resulting paper, slowly and expensively to just a few choice people, that he wouldn't have jumped at the chance? I contend that even the guy who invented the printing press doesn't think there's anything particularly magical about putting ink on a paper.
Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.
I find this particularly stunning. The obvious implication is that Google never created anything, and that the creation of those aggregators, lists, and ordering of information required no investment of capital, skill, or time. Indeed, only the special process of creating content requires skill ... things like computer programs and printing presses just spring fully formed from the earth to allow leeches to steal things of value. Right?
[The newspaper business] now finds itself laden with debt (not Google's fault) and having to give its content free to the search engine in order to survive. Newspapers can of course remove their content but then their own advertising revenues and profiles decline. In effect they are being held captive and tormented by their executioner, who has the gall to insist that the relationship is mutually beneficial. Were newspapers to combine to take on Google they would be almost certainly in breach of competition law.
This is just shockingly wrongheaded, in every way. But I'm curious to know what the newspapers could possibly do to "take on Google" to prevent readers from being able to find their content. If they managed to do that, would they "win?" What is it about "creative" types that they can't understand that what's important is the content they create, not the way it's distributed? The internet is a much better information distribution mechanism than newspapers ever were, and will be able to fully replicate everything that newspapers were able to offer, plus more that newspapers could never dream of. It may not be mature yet, and copyright implications and author-payment haven't been figured out yet. But the current state of the internet is very similar to how the newspaper industry was in its infancy, and we managed to figure that out pretty well.
We could do worse than follow their example for this brat needs to be stopped in its tracks and taught about the responsibilities it owes to content providers and copyright holders.
That just isn't very helpful. What's a little more helpful is something like this:
We're back to 1836 now, in a sense; everybody who wants to has his own "newspaper", and it's tough to know who is good and who is reliable and who isn't, but the same processes are still running. The blogs will get bigger; the good ones are hiring a second helper and a third and fourth, and we'll spend a century or more sorting things out and re-creating the market. It's hard, but it's not a bad thing. It's a good thing.
Anyone who's interested in this should definitely read that article. Bill James knows his stuff. What we need is to stop fighting the demise of "newspapers," and start figuring out how to translate their best features to this new, superior medium.