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Google chief lectures newspapers

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According to non-journalist, non-publisher, non-newsman Eric Schmidt, newspapers just don't understand their own business.

As reported by the Guardian, Google's CEO has joined the chorus of Cassandras crying out that tree-based news delivery is doomed.

"It's obvious to me that the majority of the circulation of a newspaper should be online, rather than printed. There should be five times, 10 times more circulation because there's no distribution cost," he said.

Exactly how to use online distribution to pay for news bureaus filled with the reporters needed to ferret out news and present it in a cogent, contextualized manner, Schmidt didn't say.

As The New York Times discovered with its ill-fated TimesSelect online-subscription experiment, charging readers to read web articles isn't the answer.

But the care and feeling of a cadre of ink-stained wretches isn't a concern of Schmidt's. His site doesn't uncover news. It aggregates the stuff. Google makes money from the work of news organizations' reporters, writers, and analysts.

Which is exactly what's pissing off actual newsmen such as Associated Press chairman Dean Singleton, who said at his organization's annual meeting this week in San Diego, California, that: "We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories."

The Wall Street Journal's managing editor, Robert Thomson, was an order of magnitude more blunt when he told The Australian: "There is no doubt that certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet."

If there were any doubt about what Thomson meant by "certain websites," it was dispelled when he said: "It's certainly true that readers have been socialised - wrongly I believe - that much content should be free. And there is no doubt that's in the interest of aggregators like Google who have profited from that mistaken perception."

Schmidt, though, sees the challenge to newspapers as merely a matter of marketing. On Tuesday, he told the Newspaper Association of America's annual meeting, also in San Diego, that "I would encourage everybody: think in terms of what your reader wants."

You can just imagine the resulting sound of thousands of palms striking thousands of foreheads as the assembled newsmen thought, "Why didn't I think of that?! What a dialed-in, cyber-savvy, cutting-edge innovator!"

Actually, it's more likely that they thought something more along the line of the deep distaste that greeted Facebook's enfant terrible, Mark Zuckerberg, when he famously declaimed to a similar group last year that "Once every hundred years, media changes."

Namely, "Who is this fricking frack, and what the frick does he fracking know about the fricking news business?"

Or some such. ®

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