Google CEO Eric Schmidt ruffled some media feathers last week when he spoke about the unfortunate situation newspapers are in, but said he doesn’t know what Google can do to help.

This brought out the Google-owes-newspapers crowd in force, of course, but it also brought out some thoughtful commentators who offered some real ideas that Google could pursue to help journalism thrive. One of those was Dan Froomkin, who, off the top of his head, offered seven ideas that I’d like to take a closer look at.

Here’s his list, with my comments:

“Adopt” a handful of newspapers, and help them build technologically-sophisticated Web sites, with an emphasis on micro-local and business-to-consumer relationships. For instance, local papers need ways to database local advertising, local content, and information on local readers — then serve up ads based on psycho-graphic and geographic information. Newspapers can’t seem to figure this out by themselves. Then make the technology available to others.

Good idea. Better idea if newspaper chains, which are still making healthy amounts of money, even as they slash-and-burn and even as their share prices plummet, actually went out and hired the folk needed to take them into all of those areas. It’s not as though any of those areas are so arcane that only Google can do them; nor are they sudden needs. The lack of serious R&D by newspapers (sorry, focus groups do not count as R&D) is part of the problem; having someone from outside step in to solve it for them, absolves them of any responsibility for having done in little in the face of change.

Create and endow an independent nonprofit; put esteemed journalists on its board; let them buy newspapers from owners who are wringing them dry and run them as nonprofits.

Wonderful idea. Except I have met very few journalists who have a deep enough understanding of media economics to set the terms for newspapers as businesses. (I include myself in that number.) Non-profits sound good until you remember that they need enough money to keep going and to build a fund for future operations.

Create an open-source journalism wire service, hiring excellent laid-off reporters to do great narrative and investigative work that’s free for the picking.

I like this better than I would the idea of Google simply pumping money into newspapers for them to use as they see fit. But I like the last suggestion below a lot better than this one, because those organizations (and, if I can add to the list) already exist and already are at play in the field.

Fund a short-term project to hire laid-off journalists from across the country, connect them virtually with hot programmers, and see what they come up with.

One hundred per cent behind an incubator — in the hands of the journalists and the programmers — to explore new ideas. Don’t make it short-term; establish a legacy fund. And give them the power to sell the products, too, to turn it into going concern.

Create a journalist-mediated repository of citizen journalism. Hire professional journalists to “accredit” excellent citizen journalism and train citizen journalists.

I have some quibbles with this. Why do we need pros to “accredit” good journalism, regardless of the source?

Create “endowed chairs” for bloggers who can then quit their day-jobs and do actual reporting as well as blogging.

Where do I sign up?

Contribute to nonprofit journalistic ventures and foundations, i.e. ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, – and

As I said, this one makes the most sense and is the one Google could jump on this evening. It doesn’t necessarily advance the cause of newspaper companies, but it surely advances the cause of journalism.

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