Publish and perish

At first glance, Google appears to be doing what it should have done long ago, making global product and licensing arrangements that will pay billions of dollars for reproducing other peoples’ articles. Until now, the originating organization received no payment for what clearly has been nothing less than copyright infringement. Around the world Google has signed with the Murdoch-owned News Corp. as well as media organizations in Germany and Australia.
This week, Google announced deals with eight Canadian participants, including the Winnipeg Free Press, the Globe and Mail and Métro Média. That’s only a fraction of the organizations that exist, but Google says there are more such deals to come. We’ll see how many that actually means. Moreover, since financial details have not been made public, there’s no way of knowing how much this offering will actually benefit Canadian outlets. The federal government has been talking about forcing the likes of Facebook and Google to pay for articles they use, but that may just be so much election palaver.
Under the new deal, in addition to receiving payment for articles, the Canadian publications will be able to sell online advertising around those stories. And they can also sell digital subscriptions, something for which Canadians don’t seem to be clamouring. For all the gravitas of the Globe and Mail, for example, in some of its markets the Globe has been signing up fewer digital subscriptions than the New York Times.
Google has further committed over the next three years to train 5,000 Canadian journalists and journalism students on improving their digital skills. Google says this will be in addition to the 1,000 it has already trained. There will also be boot camps for budding news entrepreneurs as well as research projects to help publishers better serve their local communities.
I guess I should welcome all this largesse but I have to say that it does not correspond to the type of journalism that I practiced for thirty-odd years. Writing about business, as I did for most of that time, meant that I tried to conduct careful and accurate research, make sure I had sufficient knowledgable sources on every story, and above all, retain objectivity. This Google money might be welcome to publishers, but for the working stiff in the newsroom it’s just an outstretched hand trying to draw journalists ever closer to the Google orbit. The trillion-dollar company already has plenty of power. This money is meant to curry more favour, not improve an imperilled product.

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