This had been reported before, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt acknowledged that Google had looked at investing in or buying a newspaper in an interview in London with the Financial Times:
FT: Would you ever consider buying a newspaper; they’re cheap right now?
ES: We’ve actually looked at this and we’re trying to avoid crossing the line between the infrastructure and technology that Google provides and the content that our partners provide. There is a line and we’re trying to stay on our side it.
Schmidt thinks that charging for news won’t work online. He cited a few exceptions for “high quality” news and “specialized” publications. He was less concerned about the state of news and news gathering in major US metros. Rather he expressed concern about the potential disappearance of newspapers in smaller markets:
The real loss that we’re having right now is the loss in the secondary markets, where there was not that much money to begin with, there were not that many newspapers to begin with and reporters. And I’m concerned that the reporting that keeps the Mayor honest, that kind of local is largely going to be gone. They don’t know how to fix that.
Schmidt also discussed Google’s “platform” collaboration with the Washington Post:
With a number of newspapers, and The Washington Post being an example, we are very interested in trying to develop online news versions that somehow address the immediate needs of people and for which advertising works better. Without commenting specifically about products it seems to me that the newspaper that I read online should remember what I read. It should allow me to go deeper into the stories. It’s that kind of a discussion that we’re having.
There are “altruistic” and selfish reasons for Google to help newspapers and journalism. The former recognizes is that newspaper journalism plays an important role in the society and Schmidt clearly discusses this when he talks about newspapers and journalism. The latter is two-fold: Google directly benefits from newspaper content; and in its ongoing lobbying against regulatory intervention in its markets, Google can win points with Congress for helping newspapers succeed online.
Some newspaper owners and publishers have set up Google in the same way they’ve set up Craigslist as a kind of scapegoat for some of their own failings. But Google is genuinely interested in having newspapers succeed.