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News Bosses Tell MPs: Free Us To Fight Google

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Newspaper publishers, in their latest plea for regulatory reform, want to be allowed to collectively lobby Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for story payments. It was amongst a litany of woes Guardian Media Group CEO Carolyn McCall, Johnson Press CEO John Fry and Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) CEO Sly Bailey – sitting at the same table together – reported in evidence to the House of Commons’ culture, media and sport select committee’s inquiry on the future of local and regional media on Tuesday. Newspapers have made the Google-should-pay case before but this is the first time publishers have publicly discussed collaborating on how to tackle the Google problem and it says everything about how pressing their problems are.

Google: Bailey joined in the bashing of “superdominant Google News”: “That’s our copyright, and they don’t spend a penny on journalism at all — they just make money from ours.” Fry: “It’s like the music industry: in the end you’ve got to pay for content otherwise you won’t have any.”

McCall: “Because of competition law, we [publishers] cannot get together around a table and talk about aggregators. Can we go together to talk to Google? We have to come to select committees and do this because it would be deemed anti-competitive.” The subtext: to lobby Google together, the government would need to back their joint efforts as a consortium. Could we soon see a UK version of the hushed-up meeting of US newspaper proprietors last month?

BBC: Having seen off the perceived threat of BBC’s local video project through some heavy-duty lobbying, publishers are still anxious about Auntie. McCall told the committee the Beeb was now a “global Colossus” and wasn’t very good at local media anyway, making a pitch for newspapers to provide public service regional news broadcasting if ITV (LSE: ITV) stops doing it in 2012 — stick with the BBC and “we will get one-dimensional coverage”, she said. Fry echoed the much repeated newspaper gripe that news.bbc.co.uk’s regional sections rip off local papers’ reporting — and argued that neither the BBC’s local reporting nor Google News could survive without “us creating that bottom level of the pyramid”.

Regional prospects: The publishers agreed that when the regional newspaper industry does recover (and for them it is a question of “when”) it will be smaller: fewer staff, fewer papers, less revenue. McCall said: “I don’t think the prospects for recovery are strong … a recovery of advertising will not really solve the problem of regional papers.” But Bailey admitted that “you only need to look at the trading statements to see this industry is in crisis…” but otherwise stayed true to her usual optimism, predicting that “post-recession the majority of media companies will be coping well with structural change.”

Disclosure: paidContent:UK’s parent company ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.