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.

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  1. The LA Times is no better than this. In fact, they are even worse. A good deal of the entertainment news can’t be read without a paid membership. This has reputedly lead to their lead film critic Manohla Dargis leaving because her readership was being killed by the policy [you can’t access her stuff on rottentomatoes, etc.] Ironically, she appears to be leaving the LAT to go to the NYT, but at least there you can read all the content until its archived.

  2. I totally dig ‘argumentum ex Googlio’

  3. “Also, Abu Ghraib has been covered intensely, not intensively.”

    Great line there, Tim!

  4. I love Fowler’s aside about intensive: “This is the kind of word that we ordinary mortals do well to leave alone.” I also like reading in a 1926 publication that the substitution of intensive for intense is obsolete. Chortle.

  5. Am I just missing the joke? “Intensively” is the proper adverb there, and is in fact better than “intensely.”

  6. This may not help much, but here’s the usage note on intense/intensive from the American Heritage Dictionary (i.e., Dictionary.com):

    Usage Note: The meanings of intense and intensive overlap considerably, but they are often subtly distinct. When used to describe human feeling or activity, intense often suggests a strength or concentration that arises from inner dispositions and is particularly appropriate for describing emotional states: intense pleasure, intense dislike, intense loyalty, and so forth. Intensive is more frequently applied when the strength or concentration of an activity is imposed from without: intensive bombing, intensive training, intensive marketing. Thus a reference to Mark’s intense study of German suggests that Mark himself was responsible for the concentrated activity, whereas Mark’s intensive study of German suggests that the program in which Mark was studying was designed to cover a great deal of material in a brief period.

    I also looked up intense/intensive in Shades of Meaning, one those books that tells you what an idiot you are to confuse “adverse” and “averse”. The author said that the distinction was not definite (or should that be definitive?), but he suggested that we should use “intense” “when the intensity is applied at the point of pressure” and that we should use “intensive” “if the intensity is applied at the point of application”.

    Now I’m confused.

  7. Go with Fowler. Always go with Fowler: Intensive is the antonym of extensive. It’s only been turned into a synonym for intense by writers who think three syllables are more highfalutin than two.

  8. “argumentum ex Googlio” seems wrong, somehow. Ought that not be argumentum ad goog____ …?

    I’m not sure how to decline “google.” I’m thinking it should be a third declension noun, but I’m not sure which gender or stem to use. Perhaps it should be neuter?

    This is moot if “google” is being used as a verb.

    Kevin
    (30+ years past Latin class)

  9. Since I made up the term, I get to pick the declension and gender. I went with second declension, masculine, because the terminal -o in the ablative case seemed least likely to cause confusion.

    It’s ex googleo rather than ad googleo because it’s an argument from google (i.e, using evidence provided by google), not to (or against) google.

    Better Latinists than I may argue that Google should be feminine or neuter, or rendered in one of the more recondite declensions. (In fact I think there’s some body devoted to rendering modern words into their proper Latin forms, but I didn’t consult with them.) Until I hear otherwise, I’m keeping my life simple.

  10. It’s ex googleo rather than ad googleo because it’s an argument from google (i.e, using evidence provided by google), not to (or against) google.

    So, Goolglus, -i m.

    I was thinking that a parallel to argumentum ad verecundiam – appeal to authority – might be the way to go, but I see your point. I was also half-remembering a tendency of importing proper names, especially ones that don’t have forms that match up well with normal Latin stems, as 3rd declension. It would take someone with more chops than I’ve got to make a ruling.

    “If it ain’t on Google (or the net) it doesn’t exist” is a fallacy that we should all learn, and call people on when apt. Some educators are getting frustrated with students who don’t even bother to check for sources that aren’t mentioned online!

    Kevin

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