In Defense of a Google Exec

Last Updated Aug 5, 2008 7:29 PM EDT

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is taking a beating in the blogosphere, including by friends of mine, for his recent comments mourning the fate of investigative reporting in this era of never-ending downsizing at traditional media companies. This is partly because there are many who believe Google is responsible for the decline of newspapers, magazines, and other forms of media.

I'm not one of them. The Mountain View company is just one of the engines driving a structural transformation of how information is gathered, published and consumed -- a process that guarantees there will be winners and losers, especially since we are still relatively early in this cycle.

Google and Yahoo together, as previously noted here, drive a tremendous amount of traffic to newspaper sites. Google News aggregates news and links directly to the source -- it's hard for me to see how this is a problem. If the newspaper executives aren't savvy enough to monetize this traffic then they probably deserve to lose their jobs.

Back to Schmidt's comments about investigative journalism, the most difficult and expensive type of reporting -- and arguably the most important. We've considered here the non-profit organizations that are keeping the investigative-journalism tradition alive -- The Nation Institute, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Mother Jones magazine, NPR, Pro-Publica, among others.

I've been active in many of these organizations for years, which is one reason I noticed that a salient point was missing from the blog coverage of Schmidt's expression of concern about investigative work. That is that he and his wife Wendy, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, (where I taught for many years) have quietly been supporting investigative journalism through their family foundation for some time now.

So, though others may belittle his expressions of concern for investigative work, from my perspective he is a man who puts his money where his mouth is. With so few citizens helping these non-profit groups survive, especially when newspapers are losing their capacity to do long, difficult pieces, the Schmidts deserve kudos IMHO, as opposed to ridicule.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.