Google, Yahoo! Seek Publishers’ ‘Friendship’

NEW YORK “We want to be your best friends.” That’s what Google’s director of print ads Tom Phillips said, on behalf of Yahoo! and Microsoft also, at an afternoon panel yesterday on “partnerships in transition” during the Newspaper Association of America’s annual conference here in New York.

Indeed, one of the biggest stories in the industry in the past year has been the attempt by newspapers to form alliances with former foes Yahoo! and Google.

Phillips along with Yahoo!’s Hilary Schneider and Microsoft’s Harry Patz were reaching out to newspaper executives this afternoon about why they need each other. The audience included Walter Hussman, who introduced himself as publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and an “op-ed” writer.

Hussman was referring good naturedly to an opinion piece he wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Monday titled “How to Sink a Newspaper.” In it, Hussman took issue with newspapers giving their content away for free online, such as via Yahoo! and Google.

Both Schneider and Phillips were trying to sell newspapers on the idea that the industry needs their expertise and scale in technology and Google and Yahoo! need newspapers’ expertise in local content.

Though many in the room had already partnered with the companies, several executives showed skepticism. “Why do you want to be our friends?” asked one executive.

Phillips said that Google’s core mission is access to information from all “domains.” Schneider responded that 115 million people visit Yahoo! with a “local intent”—and Yahoo! wants its technology infrastructure to help newspapers.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, speaking on the same day across the country in Seattle at Microsoft’s Strategic Account Summit, predicted all newspapers would be online within five years.