Hit & Run

The Record of Paper

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At Wired News, Adam Penenberg uses argumentum ex Googleo to prove that The New York Times should be giving away its archived stories:

[R]ecently, when I googled the terms "Iraq torture prison Abu Ghraib" -- certainly one of the most intensively covered news stories of the year -- the first New York Times article was the 295th search result, trailing the New Yorker, Guardian, ABC and CBS News, New York Post, MSNBC, Slate, CNN, Sydney Morning Herald, Denver Post, USA Today, Bill O'Reilly on FoxNews and a host of others news sites.

What's more, tons of other non-traditional news sources came ahead of the Times, including a number of blogs and low-budget rabble-rousers like Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, truthout and Beliefnet (a site dedicated to spirituality). So did Al-Jazeera (twice). But the Times still ranked low, even after it plastered an Abu Ghraib story on its front page for 32 straight days between May and June. And Google isn't the only one to shun the Times: I got similar results from other search engines (AltaVista, Lycos, Yahoo).

Penenberg's culprit: The lethal combination of required registration and a $3-a-pop charge for archived stories. I have no doubt Penenberg has accurately described the cause-and-effect here. The Times just doesn't get the internet is the kind of story we call in this business a perennial: I've read plenty of such articles and midwifed one or two of them myself. They always make sense, but I'm a little less sure about the whole story after reading Penenberg's detail that Lexis-Nexis pays the paper $20 million a year for access to its archive. Would you trade that kind of account receivable for a higher Google rating?

Maybe you would. I might too. Maybe at some macro, geological-time level, the Times really doesn't get the internet. Maybe Lexis-Nexis itself will be webbed out of business in a few years. It's just that I've been hearing this same tune for many, many years now, and nobody singing it is getting a cool twenty large to resell yesterday's news.

Also, Abu Ghraib has been covered intensely, not intensively.