The Scoop: Google tests removing search links to California news sites

Plus: Where people get news in a news desert; the business implications of Iran attack on Israel.

Google is testing the removal of links from California news sites

Google is testing the removal of links to California-based news sites from its search engine results pages as the state legislature considers a bill that would require Google, Meta and other platforms to pay a fee for using news content alongside ads. Google will also pause partnerships and investments in California-based news outlets.

“By helping people find news stories, we help publishers of all sizes grow their audiences at no cost to them,” Jaffer Zaidi, VP of Global News Partnerships for Google, wrote in a blog post. “(The California Journalism Preservation Act) would up-end that model. It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

To be clear, the bill has not yet passed. It’s still waiting for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, CNN reported. And state leaders are angered over Google’s move.



“This is a dangerous threat by Google that not only sets a terrible precedent here in America, but puts public safety at risk for Californians who depend on the news to keep us informed of life-threatening emergencies and local public safety incidents,” California State Senate President Pro-Tempore and bill co-author Mike McGuire wrote on X. “This is a breach of public trust and we call on Google Executives to answer for this stunt.”

California journalism leaders, including the president and COO of the LA Times, have also responded with outrage.

“Google’s response is another data point that actually supports the need for the legislation and shows the merits of the scrutiny they are facing from the U.S. Department of Justice. California has a long history of rejecting bullying tactics of this kind, and I fully expect the result in this case will be no different,” Chris Argentieri said in a statement provided to CNN.

This isn’t the first time digital giants have taken on laws designed to encourage them to help pay for journalism. Canada and Australia also faced similar saber rattling before Google reached exemptions and voluntary commercial agreements with news sites. Given that California has a larger population than either nation, it’s likely they’ll also find a way to work through this issue.

Why it matters: Google search is a major driver of traffic to news sites. The search engine says it drives more than 9,000 hits to news websites every second of every day. It’s estimated that about 40% of total traffic to all news sites is driven by Google search.

In other words, that traffic disappearing overnight is nothing short of an apocalyptic event.

Now, let’s temper that. Currently the halt on California news sites is limited to what Google calls “a short-term test for a small percentage of California users.” What exactly that means, we aren’t sure. But it’s a clear sign that Google is flexing its muscle and showing what it can do.

But if the bill passes and if Google doesn’t find exemptions or agreements as it has in other markets, this would fundamentally alter the media landscape in the United States’ most populous state. Some outlets could shut down altogether. Others might find ways to shift operations so they no longer qualify as a California news outlet.

There are several reminders for PR pros here. The first is to never put all your eggs in any one basket. Things can change too quickly. One decision from Google, one tweak to TikTok’s algorithm, one decision from a news outlet, and your entire strategy could come crashing down. Diversify. Build up multiple channels as well as owned media, like a brand journalism initiative or an email newsletter.

The second is that the news ecosystem today is fragile. If California is a major market for you, start looking now for outlets that would be less affected by these changes. That could include podcasts, TV stations or social media influencers. Don’t abandon traditional media – but certainly have a Plan B.

Editor’s Top Reads:

  • In related news, many people who academics say live in news deserts – areas without traditional media like newspapers or TV stations – don’t think they’re missing out on much. According to a report from University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement featured on Marketplace, social media has filled many of the gaps left by the exit of traditional media. And it’s not doing a terrible job. Specifically, groups and pages on Facebook – some informal connections of citizens, some from official government sources like mayors – are acting as news sources. “And for those posts, we didn’t really see a lot of problematic content in terms of misinformation, or gossip, or local rumor mill-type stories,” lead researcher Jessica Collier told Marketplace. Again, it’s time to look beyond traditional media. News sources are all around us.
  • The pandemic fundamentally changed the way Americans shop, a new Gallup poll reported on by Axios found. “Consumers feel like they are spending more money on things, and the expectation is almost that they will receive better service as compensation,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. In all, 43% of workers in retail, healthcare and other industries indicated customers are now more demanding than before, often expecting pandemic-era options like remote appointments. Communicating (or beginning to offer) these options can give organizations a leg up when it comes to consumer choice in a crowded marketplace.
  • Finally, the instability in the Middle East continues to expand as Iran attacked Israel over the weekend. CNBC reported that 300 drones and missiles were sent from Iran against Israeli military targets. While 99% of these were intercepted by Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome defense system, the move is still concerning, with the president of Colombia even warning it could be “a prelude to World War III.” World leaders are urging restraint in Israel’s response, but some response is certain, even as the war against Hamas rages on. Be prepared for more supply chain disruptions in the region, potential chatter from employees and a demand to make public statements. Keep your eyes open, listen to your internal and external audiences, and take care.

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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