November 4, 2009 1:54 PM
Googling The End Of The (Media) World As We Know It
Google. Perhaps no other company is more useful in our modern lives. Perhaps no other company elicits so many important modern-day questions. What would I do without it? What will they do next? What will it mean?
(CBS/Penguin Press HC)
If there was a reporter you could pick to get to the bottom of it, Ken Auletta is about as good as it gets. In my line of work, television network news, everything he writes is required reading. And since this business (part of the so-called "traditional media") and that business (Google's "new media") and maybe even your business could soon be (if they're not already) all connected anyway, it might not be a bad idea to check out his latest book, "Googled."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write this book?
Ken Auletta: I wanted to write about the future of media and did not search long to come up with a company that was at the epicenter of the digital revolution. More than any company I could think of, Google bumped into and was helping redefine every traditional media business from newspapers and magazine to books, television, telephone, advertising, movies, software. By telling the Google story I hoped to also tell the story about the decline of traditional media and where the Google wave is taking us. The challenge was to devise a narrative that allowed me to tell this story.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
KA: Many things surprised me. I was surprised at how clear-eyed the two young Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, were about how to build user trust by challenging conventional wisdom. Instead of trapping users in a Google portal, which was all the rage among AOL and Yahoo, they sent searchers off Google and to their search results. They refused to bombard searchers with annoying ads. They gave engineers 20 per cent of their time to work on any project of their choosing, knowing this would incubate innovation and treat engineers like artists.
I knew this yet was nevertheless surprised as I dug deeper to learn how reactive and slow of foot most traditional media executives were to the digital threat. They should have been alarmed earlier and acted, Instead they were largely in denial.
JG: What would you be doing, if you weren't a writer?
KA: As a kid I wanted to be a professional athlete. Then an FBI man. Then a diplomat or public servant (not an office seeker).Then a writer about government and politics. I wound up writing about the media. The lesson for me is that my life, like many others, is full of serendipity. Life takes surprising turns.
Had I not taken the writing road? I love to cook, but working in a restaurant is too hot. Owning one is too tedious. Truth is, I'd be miserable.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
KA: Mary Karr's "Lit: A Memoir," Debora Spar, "Ruling The Waves: From the Compass to the Internet, A History of Business and Politics Along the Technological Frontier."
JG: What's next for you?
KA: A happy return to writing the Annals of Communications for The New Yorker after a year-and-a-half leave to finish "Googled."