Beware Rat Holes…

Well, Sam Zell wants the newspapers to stop laying down in front of Google and giving away their content. See Paul LaMonica at CNN Money on Zell’s recent speech at Stanford.

After almost 15 years of newspaper involvement in the internet, it is a little sad that the very talented team at Tribune Interactive and the online operations of the Tribune newspapers are starting at the beginning educating a new corporate overlord.  If they are lucky Mr. Zell will actually spend some time discriminating between the truth and the fiction of the newspaper business. He has a reputation for being hard-nosed and fact-based.  So, let’s hope for the best. Unfortunately, Zell has already started down a rathole – Google is to blame for the newspaper industry and Tribune’s current woes.

Well, I am sure that some one – I hope that someone – has told him that all Tribune needs to do is systematically turn away the Google, and Yahoo and Ask crawlers and they will go away.  See the post from Hank at Money in the comments of LaMonica’s post.  But be prepared to see 20 to 30%, maybe more, of your page views go away.  Maybe you don’t need them, your sales teams are probably not selling out the sites, so these pages are just carrying remnant advertising anyway.  Remnant ads, like Google AdSense and What’s a couple of million dollars to a private corporation.  Not to mention the impact on co-branded partners – like the CareerBuilder that Zell seems so impressed with.  So, referral traffic to CareerBuilder and from Trib properties goes down.  That’s OK.  They always have Google – strike that – they can add to their current advertising efforts. What’s another couple of million dollars in advertising expense anyway.

Hopefully, Zell will slow down and ask some difficult questions. There are no simple answers, otherwise I assure you that some one would already be implementing them – either in the newspaper industry or outside of it.  BTW, let’s hope no one says anything to Zell about owning a stake in the largest and most successful of the new generation of news aggregation and community news/community editing sites.  Topix has just launched at whole new approach to news editing.  I would hate to see this effort get balled up in some new corporate hand-wringing.

The industry has looked to the Tribune in the past – even though most won’t admit it – for answers or at least direction.  So, let’s hope the new private ownership structure and a fact-based approach from the top will help sort out some of the problems facing the news business.  And that the current knee-jerk reaction to the change in the way news is created and communicated will give way to some honest thinking from Mr. Zell and his team and hopefully some new answers.


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