Monthly Archives: February 2010

Google and the future of trust

Looking for the capitol of Iowa? What about directions to your son’s baseball game? Got a bet on how old Brooke Shields really is?

The answer is Google—a noun that we’ve lovingly transformed into a verb and quickly equated with “the search for knowledge.”

Much to the founders’ delight, I’m sure. Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google with a goal to simply make information more accessible. In a true American “boot straps” kind of story, these two Stanford PhD candidates started a little research project that soon became known around the world as “Google.”

Garage start-ups are not a foreign thing to us, but Google is different. Somehow, its origins seem clean to us. Its disinterest in bankrolls seems genuine – its altruism real. The impromptu “don’t be evil” motto is literally engraved on its walls.

This week I read Ken Auletta’s excellent new book Googled, in which he says,

“Naïveté and passion make a potent mix; combine the two with power and you have an extraordinary force, one that can effect great change for good or for ill. Google fervently believes it has a mission. ‘Our goal is to change the world.’ Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, told me. ‘Making money, he continued, is a technology to pay for it.’

For good or for ill is the question.

Ironically, this was not a good week for the Google empire. Earlier this week an Italian court convicted three Google executives of violating privacy protection when it refused to take down a YouTube video showing teenagers bullying an autistic boy.

On Friday, Microsoft came out swinging, voicing concerns about Google’s online dominance. The European Commission is looking into complaints against Google from three European Internet sites, one of which – a Microsoft subsidiary.

I can hear Microsoft now, saying, “Hey Google, don’t worry we kept the hot seat warm for you.”

In the past, Google has enjoyed a tough coating of trust on our part. We use Gmail at home, Google Docs at work, Google News when we wake up, YouTube before we go to bed, and Search about 27 times a day. We essentially donate our most intimate information so that Google can refine its product and make a buck. To us, however, it’s a free service that makes our lives infinitely better. And we love Google for it (I’m not being facetious here, I really love. Google.)

Despite my appreciation for all things Google, my reading this week of Auletta’s Googled has led me to at least question our allegiance to a company who verbally promises its best intentions and sticks our secrets in “the cloud.”

How many antitrust, anti-privacy allegations will it take to dent its armor? I’m not urging Google the giant to be blasted – what would I do without it? (Again, not sarcasm, really.) I’m just curious how this mega-brand does it. Can we find more Larrys and Sergeys with genius aspiration and selfless ambition – and bottle it.

I’m sure if it’s possible, Google will get around to it.

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McChesney’s media structure McNuggets of information

My parents’ definition of media = CBS, NBC, ABC.

My definition of media = Twitter, Hulu, digg.

Definitions and expectations are shifting, leaving the media industry in crisis mode. As online content becomes more popular, traditional outlets are cutting costs—and quality is the innocent casualty. This vicious cycle is driving more and more people to their laptops for custom news and entertainment in hopes of avoiding the over-commercialized, mega-controlled and pretty politicized.

You’re probably thinking, duh, this is nothing new. People have been aware of media bias for all of time.

So why then has nothing changed?

This week, in reading The Political Economy of Media, I came across Robert McChesney’s reasoning for our stalemate.

McChesney gives us three hypotheses why we, as Americans, have failed to restructure or even debate the organization of our media.

He says, “The first hypothesis is that the inability to publicly debate the capitalist basis of the media is a function of the general inability to make fundamental criticism of capitalism itself in U.S. political culture.” In other words, because we’re engrained with a sense of capitalism, we fail to question its power on the media.

The second hypothesis for the lack of debate over the control and structure of the media is that “the corporate media have actively cultivated, with considerable success, the ideology that the status quo is the only rational media structure for a democratic and freedom-loving society.” Has the democratic essence of free speech been controlled because it seems “too American” to say otherwise?

McChesney’s third hypothesis is that the nature of the corporate media itself has perpetuated the lack of legitimate debate. Meaning that the media has been able to control the public perception of the discussion surrounding its control and structure.

Though his ideas may seem a bit extreme, I can find a little truth in each of them. I definitely agree that we’re overdue for an overhaul. Which of these hypotheses seems the most plausible to you? Or would you disagree with McChesney altogether?

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The Newspaper’s Funeral

I can hear the faint but familiar sound of taps in the distant.

As metropolitan dailies continue to close their doors, the livelihood of news is dwindling. You can watch in horror on sites like Newspaper Deathwatch, which chronicles the paper’s untimely death.

So why after hundreds of years are we losing the very vehicle that has hand- delivered democracy to our doorsteps every morning?

Well, in part, we are a part of the problem. Our fascination with the Internet is costing precious advertising dollars to newsrooms that in turn cut staff in order to get by. Not to worry, those under paid staff members were only doing little things like ensuring accuracy, keeping us informed and making sure the entire world isn’t misguided.

With smaller staffs and a desperate desire to keep us engaged, news is resorting to sensationalism and 24-hour news cycles that care more about ratings than what is right. Just please the sponsors and advertising bucks, and remember, “if it bleeds it leads.” I’ll probably still be paying for my journalism/print news degree when I witness the end of this era that all my past generations shared in.

What we’re really dealing with is bigger than the death of newspapers. This is the death of news. The degradation of journalism as a whole that now cares more about the latest celebrity behind bars than the latest legislation in Congress.

Because we are part of the problem, it’s our responsibility to be part of the solution – a return to truth and substance in the news. Whether support will come in the form of government subsidies or philanthropic donations, something substantial must materialize. Something must stir in our minds to demand more than what we have now.

What do you think about the role of advertising in news? Where do you see the future of the news industry? What can we do to make a difference in the years ahead?

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