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Head of Google News Likens Journalists to Musicians

January 12, 2012

Richard Gingras, Head of News Products, Google, came to talk to my John S Knight Journalism Fellowship class yesterday. He's a thoughtful man, whose hangdog, droopy-eyed expression belies a sharp mind and understated sense of humor.

I was struck by many things that Gingras said, which included his belief that current attempts to personalize news searches are pointless as they don't accurately reflect people's interests and personalities. The gist of what Gingras said was, "If I happen to have read six stories about Tahrir Square on one day, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm interested in Egyptian politics."

Most palpable to a culture journalist, however, was his riff on business models for journalism, where he likened the work of a journalist today to that of a musician.

Gingras said that as in music, there will be a few people in journalism at the top of the profession who make a lot of money, a slightly bigger layer below that where journalists making a decent living, a layer below that where an even larger number of people are making some income, and a vast pool at the very bottom where, for no particular reason, journalism is created purely out of passion with little or no financial reward.

I think culture journalists, because they are close to the arts world both economically and socially, have been attuned to this reality for a while now so the comparison makes perfect sense. But perhaps this analogy comes as a revelation to journalists working in other fields and beats.

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