Monday, November 21, 2005

Google Base: Death Knell for Newspapers?

Must read piece in The New York Times by David Carr this morning about the near knock-out punches the newspaper industry has been taking lately. Big layoffs at The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, then Google announces Google Base this past week, and don't forget Craig's List, both showing the ways to gut classified advertising from your local news pulp and give it a new home online. But how can all this stuff work without actual reporters?
A reader outside the newspaper business might be tempted to say, so what? New technologies are, by their nature, disruptive and the benefits generally accrue to consumers. Who can complain about reaching millions - or perhaps the one person you really need, a buyer - through placing a free ad?

But if you consider newspapers to be a social and civic good, then some things are at risk. Google gives consumers e-mail, maps and, in some locations, wireless service for free. But for Google's news aggregator to function, somebody has to do the reporting, to make the calls, to ensure that what we call news is more than a press release hung on the Web.

News robots can't meet with a secret source in an underground garage or pull back the blankets on a third-rate burglary to reveal a conspiracy at the highest reaches of government. Tactical and ethical blunders aside, actual journalists come in handy on occasion.