“You Need to Think Beyond the Current”

Google’s Richard Gingras on riding media’s tides of change

07/04/2015 New York

IESE Business School

The Implications of the Open Internet

"The internet represents the First Amendment brought to life: complete free and open expression," according to Richard Gingras, senior director of news and social products at Google. Speaking at IESE's Global Leadership Breakfast in New York in April he explored the challenges and opportunities for data journalism, media businesses and society in an era of freely available information.
“A perfect corporate culture realizes its imperfections and can change and adapt” – Richard Gingras, Senior Director of News and Social Products at Google / Photo: Julie Skarrat

The media landscape is in continuous flux. Changing technology gives users new ways of experiencing news and other content. And while the newspaper is certainly not dead, print journalism is no longer the number one news source. But who can users trust in a world where content is more widely available – and from many more sources – than ever before?

Richard Gingras, Senior Director of News and Social Products at Google joined Bill Baker at the Global Leadership Breakfast celebrated at IESE New York earlier this month.

He discussed these issues and shared some insight into what media professionals can do to keep up with the pace of change.

Managing a Mass of Information

Today there is an unprecedented wealth of information quite literally at our fingertips. And users have a seemingly infinite selection of content and news sources to choose from.

Google’s mission, said Gingras, is to organize this mass of materials into something that is not only comprehensible, but also comprehensive. "Our primary objective is to provide users with a broad range of perspectives."

Google News is unique, he said, in that it is not a "go here" site, but rather a "go away" site. By sending its users to other news organizations around the globe, Google News promotes a diverse set of views that goes beyond mainstream sources, combining content from well-known and smaller publishers worldwide.

"This is important to the user in introducing them to different perspectives, and for publishers so that they can build audiences in this new ecosystem – we are very proud of our role in this," said Gingras.

The Internet Ecosystem: An Information Symbiosis

Gingras believes that there is a natural value exchange between the publications that produce content, and sites like Google that bring people to them.

"Any media product is a child of the distribution ecosystem that it lives in. While Google inevitably relies upon external publications to function, these publications in turn depend upon Google for outreach."

He cited a recent study, which estimates that the average visit to a news site is worth approximately 27 cents. With over 10 billion Google-referred visits per month to their websites, these publishers have the potential to make billions of dollars from their collaboration with Google, he said.

"There are real revenue values to the traffic that we send," says Gingras. At the same time however, Google’s worth depends upon the information in the ecosystem surrounding it. Google Search is only valuable if there is a vast ecosystem of quality knowledge to link to."

Who to Trust?

While the Internet represents "the first amendment brought to life in terms of open, complete and free expression," says Gingras, the multiplicity of content and content sources poses new challenges. "One thing that we lose with the Internet is the unifying characteristic of mainstream media."

Traditional news sites, publishers and journalists jostle for clicks with bloggers, corporate advocacy sites and even regular Internet users via social media platforms, said Gingras. In today’s modern media landscape, users are influenced by friends’ endorsements as well as "professional opinions."

"Given the change in the ecosystem, journalists and publishers should grapple with the question of how we can evolve the architecture of news sites to fit the modern world and build trust in reliable sources."

Gingras’ response has been to launch the Trust Project together with Sally Lehrman, a fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. The project sets out a number of practical tactics such as mission statements from news organizations and journalist, and full disclosure of bias – or even author biographies – in news articles on the Internet.

Not only would these signals help consumers to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources, says Gingras, but they would also help Google to pull high-value content out of the archives and into the spotlight.

The Future for Information Sharing

Gingras is "optimistic" about the future of media.

"My optimism stems from the fact that we have so many new capabilities," he says. Articles and storytelling are no longer the only way to share information. Data journalism in particular – where "traditional" journalism meets numerical data and intersects with other disciplines including investigative research and statistics – opens the doors to radical innovation, he believes.

"There is a view that the Internet is an extension of paper news. But that’s only one tiny slice of what it is," Gingras says. Businesses should look at data not just for analytics, but also as a means of creating new forms and products.

However, with change comes uncertainty. And navigating disruption means staying informed about changes. And having the dexterity to adapt when change comes.

Think Beyond the Current

"Things are changing rapidly and will continue to change. You cannot simply assume anything. Larry’s (Page) big message to us is to think 10X," said Gingras, referring to the Google CEO’s desire to create products and services "10 times better" than those of the competition.

To thrive in the rapidly changing media landscape, said Gingras, you have to "think beyond the current."

Google has developed its corporate culture with this objective in mind, he said. From its hiring processes to strategies for testing new products, the company’s modus operandi is built on promoting creativity, risk-taking, deftness and experimentation.

"A perfect corporate culture is one that has the ability to realize its imperfections and to change and adapt. You need to be nimble, fast changing, willing to take risks and to accept mistakes."

As part of its suite of executive education programs, IESE New York offers the Media AMP to executives operating in the media and entertainment spaces.