Technology Industry Extends a Hand to Struggling Print Media

August 11, 2013

Technology Industry Extends a Hand to Struggling Print Media


From classifieds to display ads to subscriptions, the digital age has broken the financial pillars of print journalism, leaving the industry struggling to stand on its own. But more frequently — and with a boom last week, when Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of, bought The Washington Post — the tycoons who have led the digital revolution are giving traditional print outlets a hand. Call it a sense of obligation. Or responsibility. Or maybe there is even a twinge of guilt. Helping print journalism adapt to a changed era is becoming a cause de jour among the technology elite.Google, which has been criticized for profiting from news content created by others, began financing journalism fellowships for eight people this year. The founder of Craigslist, the free listing service that helped ruin newspapers’ classified advertising, helped finance a book on ethics for journalists.

A co-founder of Facebook, the social network many young people rely on for news, recently bought New Republic magazine, and the founder of eBay, another classified ad killer, started an online news service in Hawaii. Steven P. Jobs, the former Apple chief executive, went out of his way to advise newspapers how to adapt their products for the tablet era.

“So ironic,” Les Hinton, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in a Twitter post last week about Mr. Bezos, that The Washington Post “should be consumed by a pioneer of the industry that almost destroyed it.”

Technology industry leaders, who “deal in fact and code,” are supporting the press because they value it, said Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University and the former editor in chief

“They’re concerned about where the country is going and share a commonly held point of view that what we do is important for democracy,” said Mr. Brown, who is also a partner at the venture capital firm DFJ Frontier.

This union of the press and digital patrons is sometimes awkward. For starters, tech moguls seem to do their best to stay as far away as possible from the news media’s prying questions. Mr. Jobs was famously prickly around the press, while Mr. Bezos has shunned all interviews about his purchase of The Washington Post except for one — with The Washington Post.

Technology’s helping hand has mostly been extended to newspapers and magazines. And some tech-focused companies, like Yahoo, have long been involved in the news business, hiring their own reporters and editors, setting themselves up as direct competitors to traditional news outlets.

On the business side of newspapers, executives have done little to hide their suspicions about the technology companies that are reaching out. Several years ago, while Mr. Hinton was publisher of The Wall Street Journal, he described Google as a “vampire” sucking the blood from newspapers because of how it aggregated news articles on its Google News site.

Frank A. Blethen, the publisher and chief executive of The Seattle Times, scoffed last week at the overtures Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, had made to journalism causes. “He clearly disrupted classified advertising,” Mr. Blethen said. He added dismissively about Mr. Newmark’s efforts in journalism ethics, “and now he’s portraying himself in this public policy realm.”

Many critics of the newspaper industry say its predicament is its own fault for allowing upstarts like Craigslist to outflank it with better methods for advertising automobiles, rental apartments and other merchandise.

Mr. Newmark declined to comment on why newspaper officials blamed him. He said he supported journalism initiatives — media ethics and fact-checking are two pet causes — because he valued news he could trust. He said he was not even convinced that Craigslist had hurt newspaper classified advertising.

“I’m still waiting to see any hard evidence for cause-and-effect,” Mr. Newmark said. “I’ve been paying attention for a long time.”

Mr. Newmark said he donated $42,000 to the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla., to host a seminar related to a book Poynter recently published on journalism ethics and for the development of a related Web site.

When the complaints about Google from newspaper executives reached their peak in 2009, Eric E. Schmidt, then the company’s chief executive, told an interviewer that Google had a “moral responsibility” to help the press because of its societal role of providing transparency.

Since then, the search giant has been cozying up to journalists in a growing variety of ways, financing reports on the impact of the Internet on journalism, sponsoring journalism conferences and donating to press advocacy groups. Last week, it hosted TechRaking, an event on the use of data in reporting, at its Silicon Valley campus with the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Richard Gingras, senior director of news and social products at Google, said complaints from newspaper publishers in the past were based on a false belief that Google News was diverting traffic from their sites. He said relations between publishers and Google, which sends news sites about six billion visits a month, have improved steadily over time.

“These have been challenging times for traditional publishers,” Mr. Gingras said. “I think we’ve also come a long way in the sense of recognizing that we need to be more up front in how we speak to the industry.” The money that technology companies and their founders are spending to support journalism can be viewed in a more cynical way: as an investment in public relations with a struggling industry that can still cause trouble for them or, conversely, further their business interests. The sums are relatively small in any case. The $250 million Mr. Bezos is paying for The Washington Post, for example, represents about 1 percent of his estimated $25 billion fortune.

But Esther Wojcicki, a teacher of high school journalism for several decades in Palo Alto, Calif., and the mother-in-law of Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, said the motivations of the tech people supporting the press, many of whom she has spoken to, were more sincere.

“They are concerned,” she said, “that what they’re doing has impacted a very important part of American culture.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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