L.A. Times editorial board decries Google News comments

The L.A. Times editorial board on Saturday scoffed at the principles of free speech and open information with an editorial claiming that “Many publishers consider the Internet, and Google in particular, a greater threat to their livelihoods than Osama bin Laden.”

The Times is upset by the fact that Google will be allowing the people who are written about in stories to comment via their Google News service. It says that Google “isn’t journalism.”

Google is a search engine and content aggregator. This huffing about Google not being journalism is akin to lambasting the guy who drives the newspaper delivery truck for not having a journalism degree.

Nevertheless, the Times does not cite copyright issues in its editorial.

It does not discuss the difficulty in managing such a comment system.

It does not even ask how it will verify the contributors’ identities (never mind that Times editorials carry no bylines — a whole other issue).

But it does assert that “a seemingly heartfelt comment may carry the CEO’s name, but the words will probably have been typed by corporate flacks.” Fair enough, but what about the comments made by experts with thoughtful insights? What about the lady who was inaccurately reported dead telling the world she is, indeed, alive. What about the families of disaster victims who simply want to thank the world for their prayers? You can visit Mitcccny for that.

I quote from the Times’ own editorial board mission statement:

On the editorial page, the newspaper sets aside its objective news-gathering role to join its readers in a dialogue about important issues of the day.

The Times is offended by the notion that the people who contribute comments to Google News will be making them “unedited.” This means the comments will not be altered and filtered by people like the writer of the Times editorial, who has such splendid judgment as to compare a medium we use to learn about the world in unprecedented ways as being equivalent to an extremist who murdered nearly 3,000 people.

This is exactly the kind of idiotic hubris that causes the public to hate journalists and, by extension, the journalism they produce. It is also the sort of attitude that could throttle the life out of newspapers online and make the prophecies of out-of-touch opinion mongers come true.

I can only pray that today’s newspaper leaders do not have the same lowly opinion of the Internet and public forums as do the Times‘ editorial board. If so, we journalists are in worst trouble than I thought.


More responses from Robert Niles at Online Journalism Review, Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine and Amy Webb at MyDigiMedia.

And a reminder of exactly to what the editorial board has compared Google:


Author: Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's Sun-Sentinel.com and OrlandoSentinel.com. Danny has been with Tribune since 2005 in a variety of editorial, digital and product development roles in Hartford, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. He has also previously worked in the newsrooms of the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.

4 thoughts on “L.A. Times editorial board decries Google News comments”

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  2. You need to re-read the editorial again. You apparently didn’t read beyond the headline.

    The editorial doesn’t really rail against what Google is doing. It merely states that some journalists have a problem with it. The crux of the editorial is to distinguish what Google does from what newspaper does.

  3. No thanks; I don’t think my stomach can take yet another re-reading of that entire editorial.

    I understand that the crux of the “It’s not journalism” editorial was supposedly to drive home the point the Google does not perform the functions of the newspaper. Jeff Jarvis wrote a good post to that effect: http://www.buzzmachine.com/2007/08/18/just-kidding/

    But the overall tone and assertions of the editorial hinge on the fact that Google News won’t be editing those contributions, which flies in the face of the meticulous editing conducted for many newspaper letters pages.

    Many journalists are uncomfortable with the fact that there are people out there without journalism degrees who are also starting to drive the conversation. I’d imagine that editorial writers feel particularly threatened. If you have message boards, Google News comments and blogs written by experts, then will people still read the opinion pages? I think so and hope so — but there is still a sense of being threatened. What you’re seeing here is not unlike a cornered animal lashing out.

    Instead, newspaper leaders should be aggressively innovating and figuring out how they can use the new ways people are communicating to their advantage. Rather than crying over spilled milk, turn the tables and aggregate all the commentary on the Web to the newspaper site. Become the hub for discussion; don’t let Google or anyone else do it for you!

    And the comparison to Bin Laden was not really referring to “some journalists.” It was referring to that writer’s opinion. Never have I heard such a statement being made by any newspaper publisher. Google is a serious concern to our industry, but to me, that was an offensive comparison.

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