Yes, Google is a Media Company

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Much brouhaha has been written lately about whether or not Google is a media company. It’s the type of ontological question that tends to fascinate theologians during the medieval era or media pundits now.

Most say that Google isn’t a media company because it does no original reporting. Or because it has no presses or broadcast transmitters.

Although I’m sure that the self-appointed clerics of the Fourth Estate have taken great comfort in making such profound pronouncements, I’d like to add a few words from reality:

Those pundits are wrong and their arguments are faulty. It’s they themselves who misunderstand media in the Twenty-First Century.

Google absolutely is a media company.

The purpose of media in the Twenty-First Century is to deliver the appropriate information to the right person, and such information includes news stories. The purpose isn’t to deliver the same stories to all people. Nor is the purpose of media necessarily to do original reporting.

Thousand of American Media Companies Generate No Original Content

I chuckle whenever pundits say that Google isn’t a media company because it does no original reporting. It’s like kettles calling a pot ‘black’. When they use original reporting as the definition of a media company, they’re using a definition under which not even companies they do consider to be media can stand.

For examples, how many American radio stations generates original content? Very few. Most of the hourly news programs aired by American AM and FM radio stations aren’t created by those stations but are audio from wire services or networks. Although stations in the top markets do have news reporters on air, the bald fact is that most of the 6,000 radio stations in America no longer have any reporters either on air or even on staff. Most air nothing but content that originates elsewhere. Nevertheless, pundits consider those companies to be media companies despite their lack of any original content.

There nowadays even are some television stations in America that no longer originate much of their ‘local’ content. As the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s State of the News 2004 report noted:

    Bahakel Communications, for example, owner of WOLO in Columbia, S.C., now produces WOLO’s newscasts from its Charlotte station, WCCB, 90 miles away. Emmis Communications, a television and radio station owner headquartered in Indianapolis, programs its Southeastern stations from a hub in Orlando, Fla….

    The Sinclair Broadcast Group, outside Baltimore, is trying the best-known example of such integration. The Sinclair group’s “News Central” beams “localized” weather and sports segments from its Maryland headquarters to stations around the country, along with national and international news reports and even editorials.

Yet, pundits would call those local TV stations media companies.

There is Little Original Content in Most Newspapers

Now examine what pundits certainly do call media companies — newspapers. Have those pundits ever counted how much original content the average American daily newspaper contains?

No, I don’t mean The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, which are extremely large national dailies and not anything like the average American newspaper. Don’t be fooled by people who use the Times or Journal as examples of ‘average’ newspapers. What I’m writing about are newspapers that have less than 250,000 daily circulation, a category that includes 1,420 of America’s 1,456 daily newspapers. That’s 95 percent of the allthe daily newspapers in America: Not just the average newspaper but nearly the entire Bell curve of the industry.

Count the amount of original reporting in those newspapers. Newsrooms might hate reading this, but there no longer is not much original reporting in their newspapers (staff reductions to maintain profit margins has caused that. Read Philip Meyer’s The Vanishing Newspaper to find out why.).

If you count column-inches or area, you’ll see that more than 95 percent of the average American daily newspaper isn’t original content. You read that right: 95 percent of the content in 95 percent of the daily newspapers in America isn’t original. The vast majority of the average American newspaper’s content is wire service copy, feature syndicate copy, and advertiser-generated content such as display and classified ads.

Most newspapers simply aggregate, format, and deliver other organizations’ content (you know, like Google News). Only about 5 percent of most daily newspapers’ content is original reporting. Nonetheless, pundits certainly consider newspaper companies, despite only 5 percent of content being original, to be media companies.

A Half Millennia After the Printing Press, Another Devil is Found

So, what’s the deal with these pundits skewed logic? They consider thousands of radio stations to be media companies despite those not originating any original content. They consider daily newspapers to be media companies, despite newspaper containing only 5 percent original content. So, why don;t they think a company that operates a news website which generates no original reporting but that is the source of news for millions of people daily is a media company?

Obviously, the amount of original content generated isn’t the definition of a media company. Otherwise, most radio stations wouldn’t be considered media companies. Indeed, most daily newspapers only generate about 5 percent original content; most of the contents in newspapers is aggregated, formatted, and delivered from other companies. Yet, newspapers are considered to be media companies.

If those media companies generate zero to 5 percent of their own contents yet are considered to be media companies, then what percentage of original content is the threshhold? If Google hired one reporter, would it then be considered a media company? In such a case, it would have more news staff than most AM radio stations. In fact, it right now has the same size news staff as most of that those stations in America do. Zero.

Or will those pundits try to sidestep these faults in their logic and instead begin saying that Google isn’t a media companies because the majority of its revenues don’t come from distributing news? If so, then they’d better also eliminate Reuters as a media company because it generates only 7 percent of its multi-billion dollar revenues from news reporting.

No, neither the amounts of original reporting nor revenues generates from news reporting are true measurements or definitions of what makes an organization be a media company.

Google originates as much of news content as do most AM and FM radio stations and only a few percent less than the average daily newspaper does. It attracts millions of people daily because it deliver news that is relevant to them, people who prefer it to the websites of most newspapers, news magazines, and broadcasters. Those users are the true measurement of how much of a media company Google is.

Atop this article, I wrote that much brouhaha has been written about Google News. Many lexicographers believe that the English word Brouhaha derived from a French term for a noise made by the devil.

How apt. Most news industry pundits mistake Google News for the devil and fail to realize it’s a Twenty-First Century media company helping people find news relevant to their lives. Like the medieval scribes who claimed that printing presses were tools of the devil, these pundits denounce what they fail to understand.

The definition of a media company has changed and left them behind.

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