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Live Blog: Google’s Marissa Mayer & “Wither Journalism” At Web 2.0
Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience, is speaking today at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. The following is a live blog of her appearance, which is scheduled less than an hour after she announced a Google/Twitter partnership to include real-time tweets in Google’s search results.
This is a four-person panel moderated by John Battelle:
- Martin Nisenholtz, Senior Vice President of Digital Operations, New York Times Company
- Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Search Products & User Experience, Google
- Eric Hippeau, CEO, Huffington Post
- Robert Thomson, Managing Editor, Wall Street Journal
Battelle begins by asking if it’s right to talk so much about the death of the newspaper, and to blame Google for it. Nisenholtz says there’s many more interesting things to talk about. Local newspapers are “still pretty healthy, but large metropolitan newspapers are under the most pressure.”
Battelle asks Thomson if he feels Google “owes them.” Thomson: there’s a willingness on the part of people to pay for web content, what we need to work through is the way (to make it work). We need to have a rational debate about professional journalism. It’s not the means of delivery, it’s the means of creation.
Battelle asks Mayer how she responds to the above. Mayer – important to acknowledge that journalism is in transition. It’s gonna require experimentation, like we do with Fast Flip. Google pays more than $5 billion/year to publishers, we deliver more than a billion clicks to news outlets from Google News, and many more from Google search. 100,000 clicks per minute going out to news publishers.
Thomson says Google doesn’t really want to drive traffic. Says Google is promoting promiscuity. (!) He questions the comment pages (which I thought were history? Or maybe I misheard?). Mayer disagrees, and Thomson says the font size needs to be bigger. (Ha!) Battelle says he can’t believe we’re debating font sizes.
Battelle brings Hippeau into the conversation. Are they developing a newsroom, or sticking with guest contributors? Hippeau says we could argue about who/what is a journalist or who isn’t, but they consider themselves a news organization. We give our guest contributors a big platform.
Nisenholtz accuses HuffPo of violating copyright “on too many occasions,” but he’s okay with Google doing what it does. But he says this is a sideshow to the bigger question – what is the business model? He says the CPC advertising model hasn’t translated well to news because we don’t know the user’s intent when they’re reading news.
Thomson: There are people who create things and people who reverberate them. Both HuffPo and Google reverberate things. Hippeau disagrees. (no kidding) Says there’s “a huge amount of original content” on HuffPo. And says the idea that a professional journalist is the only person capable of publishing news is wrong.
Battelle: Why not just use robots.txt to block Google?
Thomson: We could do that if we wanted.
Mayer: Our goal is to be an accurate reflection of the web and to be comprehensive. But we respect robots.txt. If someone doesn’t want to be found, they have that option.
Battelle quotes Clay Shirky re: saying it was an accident that for-profit newspapers ended up doing important societal duties. Asks if others agree. Nisenholtz says accident isn’t the right word. (They’re getting away from the search vs. news issues at this point.)
Hippeau: Craigslist completely destroyed the classified business for newspapers. Craigslist was more of a destroyer of newspapers than anything else. Nisenholtz says it’s not Craig Newmark’s fault. “Nobody has the right to exist in business. It’s that simple.”
Battelle asks about new devices to publish news content. Thomson says they’re interesting, but most profitable platform is still print. Mayer says “I would hope soon” we’ll have an Android-based e-reader. “Wouldn’t it be great if you read three stories on your phone on the way to work, and when you get to work, your desktop picks that up?,” she asks. “If we can make news more engaging, the business model will follow,” she says.
Hippeau: “We’re in the golden age of journalism, of people engaging with current events. We should be celebrating this. But yes, the business model will have to change.”
Now talking about ad targeting on news. “That’s a hard problem,” Nisenholtz says. “There’s a great renaissance on the online advertising side. I don’t want to sound polyanna, because it’s not enough.” Battelle points out that papers used to have separate sections (autos, lifestyle) to make advertisers happy and comfortable. Those have been atomized by the web.
Hippeau: What we’re seeing is that big brands know they can’t shy away. They can’t just stay in the “safe environment” anymore. Big brands know they need to be engaged.
Thomson mocks Forbes for articles like “10 best beaches for businessmen who want to bonk.”
Nisenholtz: Media brands have done a good job helping brands differentiate on the web.
Battelle brings up Google’s ad exchange platform and says they’re noticing at Federated Media that “it’s starting to work better.” Missed what he said after that. Something about publishers not happy with what Google’s doing re: ads.
Mayer: “This is about Google wanting to populate the web with great content.” She thinks there will be direct payment models for news in the future. Says she read a study recently saying Americans spend $300/year on news.
Now taking questions from audience. Hippeau says he’s wary of regulations because they’re usually made by people “who don’t get it.”
Second question is about lack of trust people have in newspapers, according to studies. People trust other sources more, including friends, their social network, etc. Nisenholtz: It’s a complex issue. Thomson: Some journalists became too removed from reality to know what people want to read. A lack of connection with society. Hippeau mentions HuffPo tool that lets you follow social news from your friends.
And that’s the end of the panel. We were expecting to hear something about the Google/Twitter announcement, but it obviously didn’t happen.
Postscript by Barry Schwartz: There is now a video of this presentation on YouTube: