The Economist Wrote Back

I wrote a previous post on an article the Economist wrote about the decline of the newspaper.  I used the post to consolidate my thoughts concerning the article so that I could write a “Dear Sir” to the editor.  Here’s the letter I ended up writing:

SIR – In your article “Tossed By a Gale” (May 16th), I believe that by using the traditional definition of “editor” as having to be a person, you misstated the way in which Google News actually operates.  Google News certainly employs, rather puts to service, an editor through “layered editoring”.  The design of Google News and its functionality certainly act as an editor, particularly since the search results are, by default, sorted by “relevance”. The news aggregate determines “relevance” by identifying particular news sources as more trusted or reliable than others. After Google decides which sources are more relevant, the availability of particular news items on the relevant sites rests in the hands of actual journalists and editors.  This means that Google News relies on editors employed at other institutions to decide which news is important for the user to know.

If I have proved to you that Google News search by “relevance” acts as an editor, and the entire service rests on what we call layered editoring, then we can say with confidence that the following two are true:  If all the editors in the world disappeared, then Google News could not work.  And, if there are fewer newspapers in 10 years, Google News is going to be far worse, not any better.  The service is not a competitor that can replace newspapers because it can not exist without them. With the evolution of life on the internet, there must exist a business model to support traditional editors and journalists outside of subscriptions and advertising.  Unfortunately, we have yet to find that model, nor a trully sufficient replacement for the newspaper.

And a Mr. Joel Budd, Media Editor, replied:

Dear Lindsay Tabas,

Many thanks for your email letter (below). I do think that the word “employs” connotes a paid position. I certainly think of myself as being employed, rather than put to service, by The Economist. You make a very good point that Google News depends on editorial decisions being made by others. If newspapers continue to weaken the website will in turn decline-although, as I argue in the piece, it will also become more important. This is the paradox of aggregation.

Notice that I do not side with those who claim that Google News is actually damaging newspapers. If anything, it and the other aggregators are exposing the fundamental economic flaws in the news business. Google News allows the print news industry to harm itself.

Again, many thanks for a shrewd letter.

He called my letter shrewd, I’ll take that over nothing!  We’ll see if I get published in the Economist, I think that might be an unfulfilled dream.  New Years Resolution for next year?  Or goal for this year?

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