by Karen Brune Mathis
A seasoned journalist asked the question. “Where were the traditional media when Google was rising up?”
Where were newspapers, advertising agencies, telephone companies and others as the mega-media information phenomenon transformed how people sought and accessed information?
Where were the industries whose businesses, at least as they knew it, were coming to an end?
“The traditional media was basically in lean-back mode,” said Ken Auletta, author of the New York Times bestseller “Googled, The End of the World as We Know It.” Auletta spoke Tuesday to almost 80 people at the Global Business Luncheon at The River Club Downtown.
His presentation was hosted by the World Affairs Council Jacksonville and the The Gate Governors Club. He also planned an evening presentation at the University of North Florida.
The Internet, he said, made information available, and Google made it possible to find it.
“At your fingertips, you can find almost anything,” he said.
The technology is transformative, he said. But not everyone “got it” at first.
“I’m just stunned at how passive traditional media was,” he said.
Auletta has plenty of media experience. Starting in 1974, he was the chief political correspondent for the New York Post, then a staff writer and weekly columnist for the Village Voice and contributing editor of New York Magazine.
He began writing for The New Yorker in 1977 and wrote a weekly political column for the New York Daily News.
“Googled” is the latest of his 10 books and he talked about it Tuesday.
The traditional media found that customers and advertisers didn’t need them as much. “Many newspapers and magazines will go out of business,” he said, although not all. “The question becomes, who becomes superfluous?”
The key is to add value, he said.
For example, libraries and travel agents found that their traditional patrons and customers discovered that online services were more convenient.
But, he said, ask a question on Google and figure out which of the 5 million answers are correct and properly sourced. Ask a librarian a question, and he or she will provide the correct response, and one that is sourced.
Same with travel agents, he said. Need an aisle seat at the bulkhead on your flight? Good luck online. An agent might be a better bet.
And sure, he said, he could publish one of his books online much cheaper than the traditional route. “But who is going to edit it?” he asked. Or market it. Not to mention the copyright issues.
Auletta said that Google and Facebook, which has 500 million users, were designed and founded by engineers.
As he researched his book through the years he spent at Google, he learned several lessons, the first being what an engineer does.
An engineer, he said, “asks why not?”
“It starts with the attitude that the old ways of doing things are inefficient,” he said.
Engineers change the way companies operate, but he found that they were inefficient “about things they can’t measure,” such as customer fears about privacy and other issues.
Auletta said the Google and Facebook founders were idealistic in seeking to making information available and transparent, but “these young engineers didn’t understand the way the world works.”
Not all countries, including China and Russia, embrace the new media and transparency, he said.
Yet, there’s no turning back. Auletta said technology is progressing and we are experiencing a dramatic “speed of change.”
“Everyone you talk to, they’re scared. They should be,” he said. “But you lean forward. You don’t lean back.”
Ask yourself this question, he said. “What can I do to not be a superfluous middleman?”