In Vegas, Google’s Cohen Details Experiments with Newspapers

By: E&P Staff

Day two of Editor & Publisher’s Interactive Media Conference in Las Vegas kicked into gear Thursday with a keynote speech by a man whose company could be considered a boon or the bane of newspapers, depending on your perspective: Josh Cohen, Google’s senior business product manager who works on Google News. “I believe that by working together, we – technology companies and media companies — can emerge from this reinvention with a more robust journalism ecosystem,” he told those in attendance at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“Professional journalism — the kind that your organizations do every day — isn’t dying. It’s just changing,” he continued. “Journalism matters to us and our users, and we want to both help people find important journalism AND do our part to ensure that journalism thrives on the Web.”

Fortunes rise and fall quickly on the Web because the pace of change is so fast, he said, and even Google, which enjoys its share of dominance in the search market, is always looking over its shoulder at the next up-and-comer. “No business has the right to exist — it has to be earned, and fought for by constantly reinventing yourself,” he added. “And despite the dreary headlines about the future of news, very smart, dedicated people are rolling up their sleeves and starting news organizations to take you out. They’re web-savvy and they’re nimble and they’re building communities from scratch. They want to be the next New York Times. The next Chicago Tribune. The next Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The last thing I want to do is come here and preach to you about how to innovate,” Cohen added. “You obviously know the news business much better than we do, and we certainly don’t have all the answers. But if there’s one thing that we’re learned about the Internet, it’s this: Change is permanent.”

When Google approaches innovation, he noted, the company has three golden rules: “First: Ship early and often. You can’t tell how users will respond until you put things in the wild. Second: Measure relentlessly. Gather and analyze data to understand what’s working and what’s not. Finally, iterate: Learn from that data, and try again.”

Cohen gave some details on an experiment currently running on Google News, in which a small number of users are seeing a new user interface that tries to make it easier for people to tell the search giant what stories interest them. “When you first sign in, you can tell us what kinds of stories you want to see more of,” he said.

Another idea he discussed, still in Google Labs, he said, is “Fast Flip,” designed to improve users’ discovery of stories on the Web by making it as easy to flip pages online as flipping pages in a print product. Some 90 publishers participating in this experiment with Google, he said, and revenue is shared from any ads that Google shows against their content.

The early results from that experiment, Cohen revealed, are positive: Users spend three times longer on stories and visit six times as many pages versus the average newspaper site, he noted.

Google is also doing a limited test with a handful of publishers on a section called Editors’ Picks, Cohen said. For this section, “We’re letting the news organizations themselves choose the stories to highlight: breaking news, interesting feature stories, maybe even subscription content,” he explained. “So when you visit Google News, you might see a Washington Post Editors’ Picks box with five links the Post has chosen to show.”

The Interactive Media Conference continues this afternoon with more panels, as well as the awards ceremony for the EPpys, Editor & Publisher’s annual awards recognizing the very best in media Websites.

Check back later with E&P Online for a full list of all the winners.

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