What will happen when there's no news on Google News?

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New York Times Columnist Frank Rich is arguing that the free lunch for news on the internet is going to come to an end.

One can hear the protestations rising from every corner of the nation, and probably the world, for that matter. But Rich argues persuasively that we're going to have to pay for news reporting, including interpretative reporting, and investigative journalism, as well as other components of professional journalism. That content costs a serious amount of money to gather, compose, edit, and produce, no matter what the platform.

What's behind that news search?

And if you refuse to pay, what then? Well, Rich says if the public doesn't pay for news, soon there may be no news on Google News.

"If we lose the last major news-gathering operations still standing, there will be no news on Google News unless Google (GOOG) shells out to replace them. It won't," Rich wrote.

Of course, print newspapers helped create the mess they're in. They were slow to embrace the web and cut costs, and have further contributed to their decline by giving news away from the start. Rich knows these are valid points, but that doesn't change the undeniable reality of the news business: news costs dough, lots of it, and if you don't pay for it, there's going to be less news.

Further, web advertising alone can not support journalism, at least not at the level journalism has operated to date in the U.S., Rich argues.

"Web advertising will never be profitable enough to support ambitious news gathering," Rich said.

Does the United States need journalists?

'Good riddance,' you say then, if you're asked to pay for news. Bad choice, Rich says. The internet is creating a palette of innovative, educational, and interesting forums and tools, but dramatically lowering the cost of reporting and investigative journalism, it is not, Rich says. The type of journalism needed to serve as a check on public institution and private sector abuses, to follow a controversial and costly bill through Congress, to wade through mounds and mounds of arcane Wall Street documents and S.E.C. filings, takes talent, training, honed skills, and time. And lots of money. Pay less, and you'll get less, Rich says, adding that less news is not the best condition for a system that relies on checks and balances as much as our nation does.

News SectorAnalysis: What one can say, at this juncture of the internet revolution, is that unless there's a quantum increase in revenue at advertising-based internet journalism models, few (if any) online news organizations will be able to afford to staff news operations at the level that print metropolitan newspapers did when they were healthy. Less certain is Rich's outlook for news: I'm not convinced that the pay-for-news model represents the only viable course for big-league journalism. At least in theory, a philanthropist(s) and / or other non-profit group(s) could subsidize journalism, in much the same way they subsidize research to find a cure for a disease or to address another social problem. However, it remains to be seen if philanthropists like George Soros or Bill Gates etc. will view journalism as an appropriate deployment of funds.

But back to Rich's pay-for-news model: can it attract a critical mass? We won't know until one of the major news organizations, The New York Times (NYT), Washington Post (WPO), or Los Angeles Times, tries it. The Wall Street Journal online (NWS) has demonstrated that readers will pay for specialized, value-added online content. And past precedent is not the best indicator of future habit: about 40 years ago, the thought of paying for TV was considered absurd.
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