Wiping out the newspapers’ ad business, Google killed journalism. Western culture is built on guilt, but this is a natural, comfortable conclusion – especially for journalists, to have a scapegoat. But it’s not true. Google was the predator that nature developed to finish a creature ill-equipped for a new environment. The same way that Mountain View depleted the news corporations by draining its blood can provide solutions for what comes next. And Google would be smart if it embraced that because it probably does not wait for a post-Google that awaits in the next corner. If we will have inspiration and determination to do that is another story. The possibility, however, is there.
First of all, we must revisit some facts. Google has not spent its golden years burning money with luxurious coverages and immense boards instead of investing in R&D. Google did not try to take advantage of the primary benefits of digital media shrinking newsrooms to present better quarterly results that paid great bonuses. Google did not try to squeeze and acquire competitors in the last three to four decades consolidating information empires like News Corporation. Google has broken a lot of things, but its sins were no more significant than the traditional media moguls.
Today, the search empire tagged Brin & Page reigns almost alone. Its shareholders rejoice when they see competitors corpses left by the company’s obsession and ubiquity. It is such a tentacular, exceptional beast that it had to give birth to a parent company, Alphabet. But in the throat-cutting world of technology mammoths, those who show mercy become bound to extinction creatures.
There is a good deal of truth though that Googles’ model is toxic for journalism. Mountain View and Menlo Park still drain all digital advertising growth in the US (and not only there). The devilish idea that projected Google out of the atmosphere was a damning good one, and strictly speaking, there is no point of hiring somewhere else for the job, from the advertisers’ perspective.
The question is that society has a tumour growing faster after thousands of newsrooms of the world were terminated or shrunk yo near-disability levels. Google certainly knows that. Its shareholders know that. The question is that when something will happen to bring everyone back to their senses and realise that it does not need to be a zero-sum question.
Google is by far the best attention-chaser of the Web. Facebook is good too, but Facebook depends on a model that needs to manipulate information. Without filter bubbles, Facebook is as good as any given newspaper. Google, on the other hand, manipulates results too, no doubt, but its business proposition – finding things – demands results that are more measurable. Facebook can create a world for you and you’ll never know it. Google may do so, but the user can see the difference (if she/he wants)
Ok, so pick the Google as mentioned above uncanny ability to funnel valuable attention (meaning, eyeballs looking for a specific niche). Instead of drowning users with massive loads of generic ads, Google could set up space where it would sell news companies inventory and grab a small fee instead of keeping the big chunk. Google would continue its search business that is a golden cornucopia, but when selling premium space (content) within digital publications, a virtuous cycle would rise. Traffic would increase companies’ revenues, and advertisers would be sure that their brands would be placed away from toxic content (like, for example, a global elected leader suggesting people to drink disinfectant to get rid of Covid-19).
The best consequence, however, would lie elsewhere. Having a system like this would be to work as a stock exchange, where supply and demand would define the value of the space. If The New York Times becomes too expensive, a second-tier alternative-but respectable site could be a good piece of business.
And then, here, would lie the problem. The NYT couldn’t care less about struggling companies because of its leading position. It may argue that Google should not be entitled anything, or that it has the right to sell its inventory alone or even that the market should be free, etc., etc. All of this is true, but also reveals a less discussed part of the problem, which is the inequality around the new digital media environment. Print local advertising vanished because of Google, but huge companies had other means. There is no free market at all, because corporations still act like predators, even if they look like “the good guys”. It’s their nature, just like a snake moves like a snake, not because it’s evil, but because it is a snake. The NYT, the Washington Post and a few other mammoths are the only ones fit to survive the Darwinian evolutionary wipe out of digital media.
Just as we, as a society, are understanding that we can’t trust the tech giants to decide which should be our information diet (to say the least), we’ll have to decide where to intervene regarding our civic informational environment. The corporations can take care of themselves and will eradicate competition if they can. However, the corporations are not as important as small and medium companies when it comes down to tackle the corrupt and abusive nature of the state. Helping them or not tells a lot about if we want to walking the walk instead of talking the talk.
Google does not have any legal responsibility or duty regarding how well citizens get informed, and its shareholders care even less if the price for it is to have only ten transatlantic ships instead of eleven. But due to its phenomenal competence, it is one of the few organisations (national states included) to have muscle enough to propose solutions. Expect that a global, faceless multinational comes to aid a failing outdated industry is naive (at best), yes. But if in last August, someone proposed a joint task force to prepare the world against a deadly virus, it would be naive too. “Every true genius is bound to be naive“.