Google’s new pet project: “Living Stories”

Google’s new pet project: “Living Stories”

Nathan Fan is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

What do Google, The Washington Post and The New York Times have in common? An eye for the future of news. Google’s most recent foray into the news business comes in the form of a collaboration with The Post and The Times. “Living Stories” is an online tool that attempts to amalgamate all the developments of specific stories into one accessible point - and all on one page. It differs from a regular online newspaper because it provides complete coverage of an on-going story. Each top story or topic is automatically updated as the information becomes available, creating a “living story” for users to follow. Further, each story is also streamlined – paragraphs of background information within each article (for readers of the daily paper edition that had not read the earlier stories) are removed. Google provides the technology platform, while journalists from The Times and The Post write and edit the stories.

According to Josh Cohen, senior business manager for Google News, the idea behind Living Stories is to move online news reporting away from the traditional structure of the newspaper. By taking advantage of internet technology, it presents the consumer with a new and more effective way of receiving the news.

So what’s in it for The Post and The Times? As consumers begin to use Living Stories and click on the story links, there is potential for these newspapers to boost their Google rankings, which would help push their pages to the top of the list when people Google search for that subject. While the Living Stories page is still a pilot project, the involved parties seem optimistic about its success as they make their refinements. Once the format gains traction, Google plans to offer the Living Stories service to any interested newspaper, magazine or website, free of charge.

As Google seems to be advancing the forefront of free news access to the masses and pushing the concept of news delivery in new and exciting ways, many are optimistic that Living Stories could be the news outlet of the future.  Others, however, have shown some disagreement with Google’s approach.

Rupert Murdoch, media mogul and head of News Corp., has decided to take on a different approach in his embrace of the internet news medium. In a recent interview with Sky News, Murdoch lays out some of his beliefs on the future of online news (click here for the interview).

While Murdoch still believes firmly in the need to communicate news to the masses, he believes that the subscription format is still the best business model for online news (at least for the next couple of decades). Having built a life based on developing newspaper companies, Murdoch thinks that paying a subscription fee for online news content would be just like paying for a newspaper in the mind of the consumer. Why wouldn’t people pay for quality reporting and analysis for online content? In fact, it may be cheaper than buying a newspaper as there are no printing or delivery charges.

Murdoch argues that it makes more business sense to have a few subscribed readers pay a reasonable fee, than to have many readers access content for free and resort to minimal advertising revenue. His business model is currently employed in the News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal, where visitors to the website may get a ‘taste’ of the first paragraph of the articles, but will have to subscribe to access the rest of the content.

Murdoch also claims that his business model will produce a superior news product. In order to provide the best news reporting and analysis, the best people have to be hired. In contrast, Murdoch specifically mentions the BBC, which has the subsidy of taxpayer money, yet according to Murdoch,  does not maintain a high degree of quality in their news reporting as they often rely on other sources for their news. The only way the BBC would be able to compete against a Wall Street Journal model would be to hire more of their own quality reporters and analysts. Murdoch sincerely believes that engaging in this kind of competitive market will be better for the news communication industry overall.

Murdoch also has shown some disdain for search engine sites like Google that have “stolen” News Corp.’s work. In the interview, Murdoch states that he is not afraid of using copyright law to enforce their rights to their content. Although he acknowledges problems of fair use in the courts, Murdoch is nonetheless assured that he is taking the better approach to the development of news.

While I am sure that both Google’s and Murdoch’s model will each have a place in the market in the near future, Murdoch’s view that his business model may survive for another 20 years is quite the prediction. The commercialization of the internet itself is only some 20 odd years old, and the explosion of free access to information has already ingrained itself as a concept into the DNA of its consumers. In another 20 years, who knows what the next generation of communication will entail for the news business.