Q. How do search engines like Google affect the way people get their news and what changes are they forcing the news industry to consider as it tries to find a model for profitability and sustainability online?

As our studies have shown, the percentage of internet users who employ search engines has risen steadily over the last decade. Analysis of Nielsen Netratings data finds that lots of traffic to news sites is referred by search engines. The online news industry is in the middle of a huge debate about its relationship to search engines and aggregators. Should an organization allow Google to crawl and index their site or not? That’s a huge unsettled question in some segments of the industry. Several experiments now underway or soon to occur should provide answers as to whether search engines are revenue enhancers or revenue detractors from news sites. A second consideration is that the major search engines have for years provided email news alerts that alert people to new mentions of subjects that matter to them. My sense is that the “alert” process will become even more compelling and important as more and more people connect to the internet wirelessly. We already see that among “on the go” news consumers. You can find much more about the challenges to the news media spawned by the rise of the internet in the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s “State of the News Media 2010” report and the joint Pew Internet Project/PEJ report “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer“.

Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project