And the news is Google
Arnon Mozes. Eliezer Fishman. Ofer Nimrodi. Amos Schocken ... Meir Brand?
No, no need to get carried away. Brand, the newly-minted manager of Google Israel, is just an employee and Google, which yesterday silently launched its Hebrew version of Google News, is just a content integrator. It does not generate articles. It does not edit them. Nor does it mean to do so; that is not its business model.
The Google News in Israel website has a similar model to the regular search engine site. Google collates information from the entire Internet, presents a list of sites to searchers and they choose whether or not to continue.
So what's the worry? The publishers of Israel's three big papers can continue running the country in peace, controlling the information we consume. Right?
Don't count on it. The launch of news.google.co.il is another step in the revolution that Internet forced upon the Israeli newspaper, news and information world. It is another shot at the power of the media barons.
It began with the front page online
The process began in Israel, which lags about two or three years behind the U.S., about five years ago. The first step was putting all the papers and the main information sources online, bringing anybody linked to Internet a wide range of news and information, for free. At first the publishers hoped it was a fad and that soon they'd be able to start charging for online access. But as time passed, their fond hopes faded.
The second step was readers talking back, posting their opinions at the bottom of articles. Again, at first it was perceived as a fad but today every surfer and online editor knows that alongside all the drivelers, potty-mouths and disinformers, talk-backers can be fonts of new, original information. Sometimes talk-backs are written by insiders with better understanding of the business than the journalist ever had. Some readers, it's no secret, click onto articles and scroll right down to the talk-backs, hoping to find valuable "inside information".
The third stage was the blogs, private websites where any citizen with access to Internet can write articles, poetry, columns or comments. In Israel the bloggers are just starting but elsewhere it's become established practice.
Yoav Yitzhak makes the news
Is it coincidence that two of the most interesting stories about prime ministerial candidate Ehud Olmert, about the apartments he bought and sold, first appeared on the private website of journalist Yoav Yitzhak (nfc.co.il), not in the big papers?
It may be; but Yitzhak's sources know that the only barrier they have to pass, in order to reach the public, is him. There is no editor above him, no publisher to throw in his two cents, people whose agendas may be ethically pure as the driven snow, or not.
Once the information is on Yitzhak's site, or any site for that matter, and once it's noticed, the big papers have to respond. They have to check, publish, get comments. Whether the information is accurate or not, biased or clean, once it's making the rounds on Internet, it cannot be ignored.
Now the Google news engine has reached Israel, a machine that automatically scans all the news source and presents them on the site using Google technology. The engine doesn't care if the story originated with Noni or Nimrodi or Schocken. It has no opinion. If it's popular, new and fresh, it will be there.
The Google engine will not only be a distribution channel for niche sites: it gives them equal opportunity. News from Yoav Yitzhak or Shira the Ganenet will appear alongside news from the big publishers. The public will be the one that clicks and judges.
If the articles and analyses that the major publishers release are more accurate and reliable, and if their brands are too powerful to do without, they can relax. Google will bring them more readers. But if the new players can bring value to the readers, Google will give them opportunity.
The Hebrew Google News has a few childhood diseases and suffers from a paucity of sources compared with the international versions. Yesterday criticism was leveled at the algorithm, the quality, and questions were asked about the need for the service in tiny little Israel. But the critics missed the point.
The tsunami crashes ashore
First of all, it is likely that Google will improve fast, and if not, a lot of new players will sprout up.
The big publishers in the world and Israel have been watching the Internet tsunami with horror.
They develop major Internet sites and put in their hard-earned money to become market leaders on Internet: they have the content, the papers and the brand. Who could compete?
But on Internet, you don't need distribution networks, publishing houses, printers and contacts in the right places. The rules of the game and the business models are different. On the net, the big publishers (and often the bid companies) meet new players such as Google and Yahoo!, and they don't know how to cope with them.
No, it isn't nice to wake up in the morning and find that your turf - which you have happily occupied for decades and know each and every inch and each and every trick - has been invaded, by a $100 billion gorilla, at that, armed with two thousand software engineers and young, original marketing and media experts with a $7 billion kitty.
Going by the rules of evolution, when an environment becomes competitive and changes fast, the winner is not the biggest, the strongest, the most efficient or even the one with the greatest liquidity. It's the one that adapts the fastest.