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Online media matters

Living Can Kill You

Google News rewards original content

Over the North American long weekend, Google announced a deal it struck four of the top English-language newsfeeds that will see Google News hosting wire stories.

Effectively, Google has exposed the dirty laundry of many online news outlets: the bulk of the news posted on a daily basis is sourced from third-party providers. While such a practice is not new (the objective voice of modern journalism arose from the need to blend articles from a variety of sources into one cohesive package), it has been a lucrative crutch for the online industry more than a decade. Even the wire services have known this, and tried to cash-in — Reuters’ site design, with its pagination and online ads, is a prime example.

News organizations have had a love-hate relationship with Google News since it launched more than five years ago, but have recently become extremely reliant upon the traffic it brings. Although I don’t believe the deal is the beachhead to the portalization of Google, this latest move will no doubt increase publishers fear factor of the big G because, in the current market space, it will effect the revenue targets of most news sites.

Even as the online edition of newspapers are experiencing tremendous advertising growth, there continues to be a reluctance to reinvest that money into the core product. Too few outlets are hiring editorial staff; even those that are, the hires are editors, not reporters. Staff are expected to vet and/or repackage the content instead of writing new material. Although the wire feeds allow sites to publish huge amounts of news, the amount of work involved often means original (online) reporting is sacrificed no matter how simple it can be to do.

Smart publishers should realize the irony, and see Google’s move a forced weaning from the wire and begin investing in exclusive content which Google — as it has shown in every tweak its made to its search services — will reward with prominent, traffic-generating page placement.