Q&A: Google News’ Josh Cohen

By: Jennifer Saba

Is Google News ultimately helpful or hurtful to newspapers? It depends upon whom you ask. Josh Cohen, Google’s senior business product manager who works on Google News, sat down with E&P to set the record straight.

Q: What is Google’s reaction to newspaper publishers who have been very vocal about their displeasure with Google News?

One thing is important is to keep in mind there is not this sort of monolithic block of publishers — there is such a range of reaction. No doubt there are publishers we have a more contentious relationship with and disagreement, whether it’s about ranking or about content or things like that. But it’s important to keep in mind it’s one end of a pretty broad spectrum. There are on the other side of it publishers who we have phenomenal relationships with, and then there is a range in the middle. Any good partnership is one in which you can have disagreements and you can have candid discussions. It’s really important for us to keep that in perspective.

Q: What are some key areas in which Google can help newspapers?

Some of it is just really basic educational stuff of trying to make sure they understand how Google News works. We have a whole team of people who work specifically with publishers to help troubleshoot when there are issues. The other part of it, which has really exciting for us, in the last six to 12 months there is an increased willingness and eagerness to experiment. I think publishers recognize that is part and parcel for how Google works. Before [we were] coming up to publishers, knocking on doors saying, “Here’s something new, would you do this with us?” and now you are really seeing it as a two-way street.

Q: A recent Outsell report found that 44% of those polled said they scan headlines on Google “without accessing the newspaper sites.”

There are lot of questions about the methodology that was used in that study and some of the conclusions that it drew. One of the best examples that particular question was asked they only could respond in one way. Think about your own individual user experience with Google News. Sometimes, depending on the time of day, you are going to scan and say I have read these stories before so maybe you won’t click anything. There are other times you are going through and it’s a busy news day or it’s the first time you checked during the day, and you are going to click five or six different times. The point of Google News and what we are trying to do is help people find stories that are of interest to them, and when they find them, send them off to the publisher’s site. In a given month we send about a billion clicks to all the different publishers in Google News. We see the average user is going to click on at least one story on each visit. But again, it’s a range.

Editor’s note: This Q&A first appeared in
E&P‘s May print edition. To subscribe to E&P, go here.

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