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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 14, 2007 at 11:42 AM

More from Yahoo! news boss

When I interviewed Scott Moore last month, I was planning to write about his big influence on the news business and perspective on the different cultures at Microsoft and Yahoo!

Moore’s a key player in the current transformation of the news business. He’s experimenting with new formats at Yahoo! and forming partnerships with publishers and wire services to add their content to Yahoo!, offering exposure and traffic from a site that’s reaching 20 percent of all Internet news consumers.

Then the Microsoft-Yahoo! merger rumors surfaced, so I shuffled things around in today’s column.

Moore was one of the first Microsoft managers I interviewed when I started covering the company, and he was running MSN operations such as Slate and MSNBC.com.

He moved to Yahoo!’s media offices in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago but still comes back to Seattle a lot to visit family here.

He’s also one of the rare Internet news executives who is enthusiastic about newspapers. I asked if he thinks papers will be dead in five years. His answer:

“No. There will be more consolidation that happens but most newspapers have a good long life ahead of them. … Local newspapers may get a lot more competition than they’ve had over the last 30 or 40 years. Local newspapers in most markets, they’ve enjoyed a pretty good run without a lot of heavy duty competition. I think that part is changing.

I think the unfortunate thing about the newspaper business today is that maybe the valuations on Wall Street got ahead of themselves and the ownership of newspapers went away from what it had traditionally been — which in many cases was local families who had a stake in the community and owned the local newspaper because they cared about journalism and about the community and really saw it as a sort of public trust. The industry got away from that. That probably hasn’t been a healthy trend. To the extent that that could change, that might be good for newspapers.”

With or without Moore, news is a big business around here. Seattle has an unusual concentration of online ventures — such as Newsvine, NewsCloud and Crosscut — that are experimenting with different approaches to publishing and competing with old media and Yahoo!

Even though it’s not doing things like Slate and Sidewalk anymore, Microsoft is also a huge influence on the news business with MSN, Live.com, MSNBC.com and new content display and ad serving technologies it’s developing.

Despite Moore’s sympathy toward newspapers, I am nervous about the way his company and others are moving into more direct competition by stepping up efforts to sell local advertising. Moore’s group is taking cues from newspapers, adding more local content that it gets for free via RSS. It’s also adding event and entertainment listings and prep sports news gathered by a network of freelancers.

I also wonder if newspapers are making smart deals when they trade or give away valuable content in return for the promise of traffic.

What good is a link to the original material, if readers have already digested the gist of the story somewhere else? In newsrooms, we’ve been hearing for years that readers are busy and want more short tidbits and summaries they can consume on the fly. So why are papers giving that stuff to competitors?

Formal licensing deals with companies like Yahoo! seem more fair than the approach of Web 2.0 sites that simply scrape and summarize other people’s news stories, offering only a link in return.

Yahoo! is actually using both approaches, licensing content from wire services and using content that newspapers give away. Said Moore:

“Instead of going out and licensing a bunch of content we just took RSS feeds from as many news providers as we could find and sucked them into yahoo news as headlines. When you click on the headline you go straight to that provider. There’s no licensing or money transfer in that case — we’re sending them traffic. It’s growing and growing; it’s millions of clicks a month coming right off of Yahoo! News.”

Moore has been experimenting with stuff for years. In the 1990s, while at MSN, he negotiated contracts with newspapers to get local content for MSNBC.com, but it never really took off, he said:

“I don’t think MSNBC ever did a good job of showcasing it or merchandising it to the audience. That approach was kind a Web 1.0 approach, if you will — we licensed the content, posted it on our servers, sold the ads, controlled the experience.”

Yahoo! is also an interesting contrast with Google. The former still uses editors to manage the quality of its news site, while Google relies on algorithms to select and rank news stories. Moore also has some issues with his competitors’ approach (of course):

“For me the challenge with Google News, while I admire it from a technology standpoint, I’ve had times when I see a headline, about say a story in Kentucky, I click the link and I’m shot off to a completely different place. I’m on some random news site in India. It’s not really a cohesive news experience from sources that you know and trust. It has its place but it’s not for the mainstream news user.”

Comments | More in | Topics: Digital media, Yahoo!

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