Would Google Be Evil for Buying The New York Times?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-11-03 Print this article Print

Bloggers and reporters are reviewing Ken Auletta's new book, "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It," in which the New Yorker writer notes that Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Google co-founder Larry Page considered buying The New York Times. Evil alert!

Googled auletta.png

I haven't read the book from Penguin Press yet, though I requested a copy today. The title alone sets us up for a treatment of an industry-changing company.

It looks from this interview on I Want Media that Auletta is painting Google as a company that is altering the course of media:

Google co-founder Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt told me that they had discussed buying the New York Times, but in the end decided that if they succeeded it would sabotage their identity as a neutral search engine. The reason they are interested in preserving the New York Times is that Google's search engine depends on good information, and the Times is the world's best newspaper.

If newspapers need any more ammunition for the idea that Google was trying to be a media conqueror, they need only look at that quote.

Schmidt and Brin know content is king, but for one frighteningly hazardous second they forgot that Google was a search engine first.

This would be quite the conflict of interest. Any evidence that Times articles would get higher placement on Google's search engine would cast the company in a most evil light.

In fact, the fact that Google's leaders even considered buying a venerable media company, while tempting when you bear the shoulders of giants rather than stand on them, is enough for the Google-is-evil conspiracy theorists to hop up and down on one foot and point fingers.

Still, Google has a track record of putting a toe over the evil line before teasing us, yanking it back at the last second.

Remember, Google bought DoubleClick and search experts clamored for the company to sell Performics to keep the search engine from the conflicting interests arising from owning a leading search engine optimization company. Google later sold Performics to Publicis.

As for the is-Google-killing-old-media issue, the Web 2.0 Summit hosted an intriguing panel on this with leaders of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Huffington Post and Google's Marissa Mayer two weeks ago. See it here if you have 40 minutes.

As mentioned, I've requested a copy of Auletta's book to review, but in the meantime read the gloomy review from NPR.org's Troy Patterson, who says the book is hardly news to Google watchers.

In all fairness to Auletta, what isn't old news these days? I reviewed "Inside Larry & Sergey's Brain" in October and there were a number of things that would have tweaked the outlook of Richard Brandt's book if he had updated it up to the week before it was published. Chrome OS, the battle with Apple over Google Voice and so on.

To quote a wise man (Ferris Bueller): "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

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