Past The Press Box

Why opting out of Google News is a terrible idea in the era of social media

I would kill to be Mark Cuban. Billions of dollars and a professional sports team, of course I would. And you know what? I'd probably act exactly the same. I'd sit at the end of my team's bench, yell at referees, buy my guys everything they wanted and when he offseason came, I'd be rumored to be involved in the acquisition of other teams. But even more than all of that, I'd use my wealth as a pulpit to express my views on any topic I have an opinion on. Mark Cuban seems particularly fond of that, and his recent view that Google News is a vampire has drawn out the opinions of just about everyone.

For a second, let's disregard the fact that Mark Cuban is calling out Google News while investing in its competitors and instead focus on the fact that there are some major flaws in what he's saying. Cuban's argument revolves around the idea that being indexed on Google News can do major damage to a newspaper's brand equity. In the world we live in, the opposite is more true: not being indexed would damage a paper's brand. But before moving onto that, here's a summary of Cuban's argument:

When that newspaper allows itself to be included in Google News it becomes a de facto endorsement of Google News as an acceptable and probably preferable “discovery destination” . The branding message to the consumer is “I dont need to go to the newspaper homepage. Everything the newspaper has  is referenced  here in Google News. So if there is something of interest to me from the local paper, Google News will send me to their site.  I don’t need to go to both sites any longer. I can just go to Google News.

Thats not good for the publication brand and business. They just lost their position as a trusted source where real people make decisions on what content they think their readers will want to discover – to an algorithm.

He goes on to say that having your story listed as 'one of x thousand sources' is never, under any circumstance, a good thing for a paper's brand. 

To understand why Cuban is wrong, or more-so why what he proposes would do much more damage to a paper's brand, it's good to look at why Google News was created in the first place. PBS's MediaShift blog has a perfectly timed interview with the creator of Google News, Krishna Bharat. His explanation on why Google News was created and how it serves users:

It was in response to September 11 [terrorist attacks]. I was reading news from a bunch of papers all over the web. And I discovered that there was no efficient way to find coverage of the same topic from different sources. To find the same coverage about the Taliban I would have to go to the L.A. Times site and [go to all these sites]. It seemed fundamentally inefficient. That's not the way the web was supposed to work. The web was supposed to have a link structure that helped you find content.

Part of the problem is that all of this news was fresh. By definition, news is fresh and doesn't have links. And if Google is to fulfill its mission to find information efficiently, it occured to me that what I was doing a computer could do. A computer could, in fact, visit all these websites, find the same article, or similar articles, and group them together. I tried it, and it worked.

Maybe this is the nature of the beast: search is how most people find news and content. Maybe this hasn't spread completely to those who subscribe to broadsheets and peruse over the day's news in 'shuffle' format but much of the online world and the 'influencers' in particular search for the news they want to see.

Anyone who's written a blog understands that Google News is an essential tool in finding new relevant content. Using Google News (and Google Blogsearch) I can subscribe to RSS feeds for keywords relevant to the niche I'm writing on and pull in the best content from thousands of sources. I don't have the time to bounce around to every paper, and even subscribing to the RSS feeds at a paper would push out a significant amount of content that is of no interest to me. Now, how does this relate to a paper's brand equity?

There are certain papers that carry an obviously enormous amount of brand equity: The New York Times, The Washington Post and every local paper that has been around for a significant amount of time. They earned said brand equity because people look to them consistently for credible news and are cited as such. This happens frequently in the world of online journalism, when someone finds a valuable or interesting piece of news they share it. And bloggers write about it. Each time they do this they send a link the story's way, essentially vouching for the story and the publication, gradually instilling a bit more brand equity each time.

If bloggers and other social media users cannot find your story (with Google News being the most valuable tool for finding news), they cannot and will not share it. They will not cite your paper or your story as a valuable and credible piece of news. They will not provide their analysis and opinion on your reporting. They will not give kudos to a great piece of writing. Most importantly, they will not add to your overall brand equity.

This is why opting out of Google News would be much more damaging to a newspaper than staying in. Their value not only lies in their subscriber count, but also the value in the minds of individuals who have at some point read something from that paper. The less and less the paper is cited, the greater the decrease in value in the minds of the readers.

Newspapers need to share and spread their content at every possible opportunity. Google News is the best opporunity they have.

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