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Media Institute: Government Should Look to Google in Journalism Inquiry

The "crisis" in journalism is not about audiences abandoning news
organizations for "newer, shinier, digital models," but figuring out how
to monetize a growing appetite for information and a continuing
interest in holding government institutions and others to account.

still demand that someone speak truth to power, whether that trusted
voice is Walter Cronkite or Jon Stewart," says Kurt Wimmer, partner in
the law firm of Covington & Burling, in a think piece for The Media
Institute, a Washington First Amendment think tank whose trustees
include representatives of News Corp., Time Warner, Gannett, Viacom,
Verizon, Microsoft, NBC Universal and AT&T.

One truth Wimmer
says needs more attention is the power of search firms and aggregators
like Google. "It is only by considering the issue of dominance in online
search and advertising, and their impact on content monetization, that
the government can help journalists effectively weather the crisis that
they face," he says. Wimmer, a member of the Institute's Board of
Trustees, says the key is finding a way to bridge the divide between the
companies who are monetizing news (aggregators, search engines) but not
creating it, and those creating it but not connected to the
monetization that could fund more and better news. "The government need
not enmesh itself in reinventing journalism, or in considering
troublesome options such as subsidies and bailouts," he says.

argues that the government should be looking, instead, at search
engines in general, and Google in particular, pointing to its $23
billion in revenue in 2008 from monetizing others' content rather than
creating it. But he is more concerned with Google's power than the size
of its purse. "As we consider the crisis facing
the media today,
should we be concerned that one entity controls access to content for
virtually three out of every four Americans? The evidence is growing
that we should."

Both the FTC and FCC are considering ways to
ensure the future of journalism in proceedings and/or workshops. The FTC
has released a draft report on its inquiry that includes a number of
proposals that address the concern about search engines and aggregators.
The suggestions included ways to expand intellectual property rights to
allow news sites to collect money from aggregators and search engines.
One way would be to amend copyright laws to recognize a so-called "hot
news" right not just in the expression, but the underlying facts, of a
story, "often gathered at great expense." Another would be to hold that
caching content, which search engines routinely do in order to conduct a
search, constitutes copyright infringement not covered by fair use

Google said last fall in comments about a two-day
Fedearl Trade Commission event on the future of journalism that its
Google News site was benefitting news content creators by generating
traffic. "Google makes it easy for people to find the news they're
looking for and discover new sources of information," the company said
in a Dec. 1 posting on its public policy blog. "Google sends about 4
billion clicks each month, or 100,000 per minute, to news publishers via
Google News, web search and other services. Each click is an
opportunity for publishers to show ads, win loyal readers and register
users. They can also sell online subscriptions: news publishers can
charge for their work and ensure that it's discovered through Google --
these two are not mutually exclusive."

Wimmer sees it
differently. He cited a report from research firm Outsell that found
that "nearly half" of Google News visitors scanned the headlines without
clicking through to the sites. "As a result, Outsell concluded that,
while aggregators like Google News may 'driv[e] some traffic to
newspapers,' they also 'tak[e] a significant share away,'" said Wimmer.