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Hearst’s Bronstein Takes On Colbert: Internet Is Not Killing Newspapers — But Google Isn’t Helping

For some perverse reason, Phil Bronstein, editor-at-large of Hearst Newspapers and the SF Chronicle, decided to go on the Colbert Report and defend the worth of newspapers. On his blog, Bronstein, the former editor of the Chronicle — which Hearst has threatened with closure or sale unless unions submit concessions — expressed some qualms about his appearance earlier in the day. After all, last week, Colbert conducted a painfully hilarious interview with Newspaper Association of America’s John Sturm. (See that video after the jump).

In the end, he had little to fear, as Bronstein got off with some gentle ribbing by the satirical host (Colbert: “I understand you’re a newspaper editor. I assume you’re here to apply for a job.”).

Some other examples of the give-and-take, after the jump

Colbert: “I have read that newspapers are dying. Do you want to know where I read that? In a newspaper. Why don’t you print happier news about yourselves and then people will have faith in you again. It’s like walking into a bar and saying, ”Who wants to buy me a drink? I have herpes.” Bronstein switched the conversation from a medical metaphor to a nautical one, saying that journalists were on a sinking ship and therefore were sounding the alarm.

Bronstein: “It’s not the internet killing newspapers, it’s a variety of things.”
Colbert: “Am I one of them?”
Bronstein: “I’ll have to check your ratings. I have heard you say, many times, ‘according to the New York Times‘ about 130,000 times.'”
Colbert: “We haven’t done 130,000 shows. Where did you read that? The New York Times? They lie.”
Bronstein: “No, I Googled it.”
Colbert: “Google’s killing you people.”
Bronstein: “Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is not helping. There was a big argument this week about whether Google ought to be paying newspapers. They’re getting our content for free and charging [for] advertising when they post it.” More after the jump

Asked about the fate of the The Chronicle, Bronstein told Colbert he believes it will hang in there. “Instead of focusing on the paper part, which may go away, we need to focus on the news part.” He then called newspapers’ decision not to charge for their online content in the early days of the internet an “Adam and Eve apple moment.” But by relying on online advertising, which has been declining at many newspapers and still makes up a small amount of revenue for most, the companies are having a tough time keeping staffing levels up. “Newspapers are the only institutions that are supporting rooms of journalists. It cost The Boston Globe about $1 million to investigate sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Blogs can’t afford to do that. The Huffington Post can’t afford to do that.”

The interview then moved on to the fate of the music industry. Colbert noted that while the industry is in trouble, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is able to get users to pay for song downloads. Can newspapers emulate that model? “Bronstein responded, saying people using iTunes were faced with the possibility of going to jail if they downloaded music illegally. “Maybe we should have jail terms for people who don’t pay for news.” The First Amendment will protect us from that, Colbert answered, prompting Bronstein to wonder if perhaps the notion of “free” is part the problem. “People are trying all sorts of things. Micropayments, like iTunes, that was discussed at a publishers’ conference this week. I’m on the board of a group that funds investigative reporting, where we get grants and private donor support. There are a lot of methods being tried and a lot of them do involve the internet.” (Video of the Bronstein interview wasn’t immediately available, so check out the excruciating clip of the NAA’s Sturm after the jump.)

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2 Responses to “Hearst’s Bronstein Takes On Colbert: Internet Is Not Killing Newspapers — But Google Isn’t Helping”

  1. Michaelc

    Demonizing google is stupid.
    When people click on a article link in google it takes them to the newspapers site, where the newspaper makes money from the advertising on their site. If google did not have the link to the article people would not be going to the newspaper site, they would be going to the links that ARE in the search results.

    If the newspapers were smart they would find a better way to leverage what they have (a huge archive of reporting) to give people historical perspective on current events and to use public figures previous actions to shed light on their current ones. In other words make some unique content that every other news site does not have. It seems to be working pretty well for "The Daily Show".

    The biggest problem that these dinosaurs have is that they have become stenographers of commentators and pundits, without doing the hard useful work of analysis. To read the newspapers one would think that the science community is deeply divided on global warming or vaccines causing autism. This is not the case. Newspapers and TV news have been misinforming us off a cliff in the name of "balance". 500 people on one side of a seesaw and 1 person on the other should not be balanced. To misrepresent that as balanced is to miss the point entirely.

    The newspapers and TV news in an effort to not upset their Republican corporate owners gave GWB a free pass on trashing the Constitution and invading Iraq and 1000 other things in the last 8 years. Instead of raising the alarm that the country was being raped and pillaged they parroted lies over and over again. They are still doing the same thing with the banking crisis. Is it any wonder that people think they are less important?

  2. >>Bronstein: “Google (NSDQ: GOOG) … are getting our content for free and charging [for] advertising when they post it.”

    Why do I see newspaper people saying this again and again? It's unbelievable how everyone's saying the same rubbish thing. If they don't want Google to take their content, why can't they just stop Google from crawling their websites?