Google and newspapers: “help” vs. “fair competition”


AAn observer not in the emotional trenches of Google's embrace of the newspaper industry might get the impression that “the love” isn't being warmly embraced.

Case in point: Carlo d'Asaro Biondo's presentation to the INMA/OPA Europe Conference in Krakow, Poland, in October.

The vice president for Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Google, Biondo made a passionate case for his company and publishers to “find a way together.” Google will work with European publishers on privacy concerns about targeted advertising. He encouraged a “new collaborative spirit.” He expressed agnosticism about paid content, vowing to help whichever way publishers wanted to go. Google can help publishers with time spent by consumers on their sites. Biondo put forth suggestions ranging from using data analysis to optimise web presence to how to spend more on journalism to insightful research.

“Google is ready to share its technology and to help,” Biondo said.

“Help” set off an impassioned retort by Massimo Russo, digital content director for Gruppo l'Espresso in Italy who commented that the news industry didn't need Google's “help” but “fair competition” instead. That set off a murmur and a stirring among the audience of 300 in Krakow.

As he left the stage and headed to the hallway, Biondo muttered in frustration that no combination of words appears to get news publishers on board with cooperating with Google. “Help,” he said, was clearly the wrong word at the wrong moment.

My sense is that publishers are wrong to take such a hardcore stance. There are areas to cooperate and areas not to cooperate, but cutting off Google at the knees and refusing to talk seems wrong.

For example, I asked Biondo about cooperation: Google is good at making disaggregated content a more relevant utility. Yet how can Google help newspapers build their brands and soul in the digital space? I was surprised that he was surprised by the question, but he vowed to look into the matter and suggested inclusion of news brands in search and news results as a first step.

Google will be a frenemy of news publishers for years to come, yet we can't use every forum to knock down the olive branches.

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