Tech industry reaches out to struggling print media



From classifieds to subscriptions to announcements, the digital age has shattered the financial pillars of print journalism, leaving the industry struggling to fend for itself.

But more frequently – and with a boom last week when founder Jeffrey P. Bezos bought the Washington Post – the tycoons who led the digital revolution are helping traditional printing companies.

Call it a sense of obligation. Or responsibility. Or maybe there is even a twinge of the heart. Helping print journalism adapt to a new era is becoming a cause of the day among the tech elite.

Google, which has been criticized for profiting from news content created by others, this year began funding journalism scholarships for eight people. The founder of Craigslist, the free listing service that helped ruin newspaper classifieds, helped fund an ethics book for journalists.

Co-founder of Facebook, the social network many young people rely on for information, recently bought New Republic magazine, and the founder of eBay, another classifieds killer, launched a news service in line to Hawaii. Steven P. Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, went out of his way to advise newspapers on how to adapt their products to the tablet age.

“So ironic,” Les Hinton, a former Wall Street Journal editor, wrote in a Twitter post last week about Mr. Bezos, that the Washington Post “should be consumed by an industry pioneer who almost destroyed “.

Tech industry leaders, who “deal with facts and code,” support the press because they value it, said Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University and former editor. from

“They are concerned about the direction of the country and share the common view that what we do is important for democracy,” said Brown, who is also a partner at venture capital firm DFJ Frontier. .

This union of the press and digital patrons is sometimes awkward. For starters, tech moguls seem to be doing their best to stay as far away from prying media questions as possible. Mr. Jobs was famous in the press, while Mr. Bezos avoided all interviews about his Washington Post purchase except one – with the Washington Post.

The tech hand has mostly spread to newspapers and magazines. And some tech-driven companies, like Yahoo, have long been involved in the news business, hiring their own journalists and editors, branding themselves as direct competitors to traditional media.

On the business side of newspapers, executives haven’t done much to hide their suspicions about the tech companies that come to them. Several years ago, while Mr. Hinton was editor of The Wall Street Journal, he described Google as a blood-sucking “vampire” of newspapers because of the way he aggregated news articles on his Google News site. .

Frank A. Blethen, publisher and managing director of the Seattle Times, last week mocked the overtures Craigslist founder Craig Newmark had made to journalism causes. “It clearly disrupted the classifieds,” Mr. Blethen said. He contemptuously added Mr. Newmark’s efforts in journalistic ethics, “and now he’s showing up in this area of ​​public policy.”

Many critics in the newspaper industry say her predicament is her own fault for allowing upstarts like Craigslist to overwhelm her with better methods of advertising cars, rental apartments and cars. other goods.

Mr Newmark declined to comment on why newspaper officials blamed him. He said he supports journalism initiatives – media ethics and fact-checking are two favorite causes – because he values ​​information he can trust. He said he wasn’t even convinced Craigslist had hurt newspaper classifieds.

“I’m still waiting to see hard evidence of cause and effect,” Newmark said. “I’ve been paying attention for a long time.

Mr Newmark said he donated $ 42,000 to the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla., To host a seminar on a recently published book by Poynter on the ethics of journalism and for development. from a related website.

When newspaper executives’ complaints against Google peaked in 2009, Eric E. Schmidt, then chief executive of the company, told an interviewer that Google had a “moral responsibility” to help the press because of its societal role of transparency.

Since then, the search giant has approached journalists in a number of ways, funding reports on the internet’s impact on journalism, sponsoring journalism conferences and donating to advocacy groups. the press. Last week, it hosted TechRaking, an event on the use of data in reporting, at its Silicon Valley campus with the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Richard Gingras, senior director of news and social products at Google, said complaints from newspaper publishers in the past were based on a false belief that Google News was hijacking traffic to their sites. He said the relationship between publishers and Google, which sends news sites about six billion hits per month, has steadily improved over time.

“Times have been tough for traditional publishers,” said Mr. Gingras. “I think we’ve also come a long way in recognizing that we need to be more direct in how we address the industry. The money tech companies and their founders spend to support journalism can be viewed more cynically: as an investment in public relations with a struggling industry that can still cause them problems or, on the contrary, favor their businesses. business interests. The amounts are relatively small anyway. The $ 250 million Mr. Bezos pays for the Washington Post, for example, is about 1% of his estimated $ 25 billion fortune.

But Esther Wojcicki, a decades-long high school journalism teacher in Palo Alto, Calif., And the mother-in-law of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, said the motivations of the techies who support the press, many including her spoke, were more sincere.

“They fear,” she said, “that what they are doing has had an impact on a very important part of American culture.”


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