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Google News as the Savior of the News Business

Enough of dire predictions of doom! Let's look at some good news about U.S. news organizations for a change. When it come to their online news sites, fantastic growth in traffic has become the norm over the past two years. According to Nielsen Online, the following companies are leading the way with at least 30 percent growth and at least ten million unique visitors per month:

New York Times 72.7
CNN/Time 53.9
MSNBC 42.1
AOL News 40.8
Yahoo News 35.8
Fox News 35.7
Tribune 35.6
Yahoo News 32.6
Who's missing from this list? Why, Google News, of course. Since its launch earlier in the decade, any number of hands have been wrung by traditional news execs fearful that the search and advertising giant would drive them out of business altogether.

That may still happen, but not because Google wants it to.

Unlike the way it behaves in its core businesses, Google maintains a surprisingly passive, downright uncompetitive stance when it comes to news. Unlike every other major player, no human editors have ever worked at Google News. It creates no original content, simply utilizing algorithms to aggregate and displays news articles from everyone else in the business. Lacking any "voice" or other signs of a human touch, Google News lags far behind the others in its growth rate over the past two years -- a paltry 11.7 percent.

Google News is smaller than seven of the eight industry leaders listed above (only Fox is smaller), but that's not why you no longer hear much complaining by media execs about the Mountain View, Calif., company any longer.

The relative silence is about something else entirely -- profits. "I'd estimate that most of the big newspaper sites get between 10 and 25 percent of their traffic via Google's links," one insider told me recently. This is free traffic, the best kind, and a major factor behind some of the explosive growth of the industry overall.

In fact, the big company so many in media used to love to hate has quietly been serving as major prop to everyone else in the news business. Google doesn't even earn any money off its news service, because it's an ad-free environment.

As Google's "Good Samaritan" role becomes better appreciated, might we start hearing news execs complaining that Google News is not growing fast enough? Given how dependent everyone else is becoming on this massive, free referral service, stranger things could happen...

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