Is Google culture right for news journalism?

Friday 13 July 2012, 17:27

Myles Runham Myles Runham Head of Online, BBC Academy

The forward-thinking crowd at News Rewired was rightly excited by the possibilities of technology as it transforms journalism, both in its practice and its consumption.

The conference had glimpses of the future from the Washington Post, Johnston Press, Guardian, Channel 4 and others, covering social platforms, data journalism, API, mobile devices, mapping and user generated content.

If we can be forgiven for our excitement, there are also some cracks in the positive atmosphere, particularly from those with a slightly longer history in traditional newsrooms. And there have been ominous reminders of economic reality and the difficulties of changing culture. 

Joanna Geary of the Guardian described the watershed moment in 2008 when the entire production staff of the paper moved to one location in Kings Place, London. If they are collaborating now - a common refrain today - it's easy to wonder what happened before.

Katy was clear that process of change will "fall on its arse" unless the culture of staff changes at the same time.

Attitudes need to shift from production and publishing to forming and sustaining relationships. But making this change is hard when the measures of success are not yet clear.

What do these ‘good relationships’ look and feel like? At the Guardian, community coordinators are on hand by the newsdesks to guide journalists to the important signals of relevance from social networks and weave them into their content.

There are many similarities to Google’s development philosophy. Google is famed for its ruthless cull of failed products (such as Buzz, iGoogle, Knol). If the data shows the product isn’t working, it dies.

Of course, having the luxury of advertising profits from search to fund these experiments makes all the difference: the economics of news organisations might make this seem indulgent. News providers are certainly challenged to fund the army of developers who are the inventing class of this revolution. 

As usual, the key to culture is language. What the conference called ‘audience’ and ‘readers’, Google calls ‘users’. It’s a vital difference. Good journalism excites a response. What Google does seems to me to be much more functional: it is building tools to be used.

Is this really the right culture to mimic?


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'm not sure you're looking for a culture to mimic. Productive cultures are built on authenticity not mimicry.

    Audience are people - and it's people who make news, share news and build relationships.

    So where will you find the people in news organisations who understand sincere relationships with the 'public'. How well can you put yourself inside what I think as as the loop of generosity which makes community building on the web effective.

    Also what is your news for?

    When I was a journalist creating the content often seemed worthwhile in and of itself. Content is now less of an issue for people - so if you are to spend public money on telling stories and building communities - to do what? Bolster democracy? strengthen community? give people an opportunity to appear on the telly?

    Motivation in an age where transparency is replacing impartiality will become very important for individual journalists and new orgs - so I think being clear about what you're trying to make better and why will be an important skill/quality in future journalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.


    I'm curious, have you spoken to Google and especially Google News about your claims? You talk of the Google culture, yet as an employee of the BBC, you are paid from a licence fee, not adverting. And we also have your event today held at Microsoft. Hardly an atmosphere which will embrace Google.

    Then you talk using words like ruthless, cull and fail. I think you need to investigate at length and report back. Google are continually working on improving their product range. Remember, Larry and Sergey started in Sept 1998 with just the two of them. they now have 33,000 employees in 14 years.

    If the BBC were even partially successful, then they would not hit these 20% cuts. And before you jump in with unavoidable funding, I disagree.. it's about adaptation. Google adapt and make scientific choices. Something the global media to look at. Google News is one example, just an idea from Krishna to make sense of a situation.

    My advice, get into Google Plus and get in fast. Google have Hangouts On Air in over 220 countries for free and the Citizens have it. So far, I have seen virtually nothing from the BBC. This is such a huge mistake. Microsoft cannot compete and they know it.

    So, this audience and these readers can work faster and cleaner than the BBC and you should know this. If you do not, come find me and I can hook you up with many many others who will gladly welcome you in. Oh, and by the way many of those are Googlers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Thanks for the comments. As what now seems like a lifelong Google user, I would not be so bold as to criticise how they take decisions. It has clearly worked for them thus far. I wonder whether it is the only route to take though for content businesses. Somewhere amongst these positions is a balance to be struck.


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