(AXcess News) Reno – Google News has cut licensing agreements with the top news wires and now hosts that content. Josh Cohen, Google Business Product Manager, said the news wires weren’t able to benefit from Google News because they didn’t provide a site where consumers could read it. “As a result, we’re hosting it on Google News, “ said Cohen.

Cohen also said that Google News was removing duplicate stories and only showing the original source, saying this provided Google News visitors with more original viewpoints from journalists around the world.

Cohen dedicated very little in the way of giving out any information on the deal Google Corp. struck with Agence France-Presse (who sued Google over showing its content – which you CAN access on its site – but Cohen states the reason they entered into agreements with the “news wires” was because “consumers could not access it.”), and the Associated Press (While hard to find, consumers can access the latest AP stories – whose pages include advertising.), the Canadian Press Association (whose news stories are right there on their home page for anyone to read.), as well as the UK Press Association (Which is the only one of the four ‘news wires’ whose stories were not on their website.).

So it appears that Mr. Cohen was mistaken when he said, “Because the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, UK Press Association and the Canadian Press don’t have a consumer website where they publish their content, they have not been able to benefit from the traffic that Google News drives to other publishers.” And this from the “Business Product Manager”? It appears Cohen is misinformed in saying people can’t find news on those news wire sites, with the exception of the UK newspaper organization.

Now to “duplicate detection”, which Cohen wrote extensively about. I must agree that readers do not want to see the same story presented from more than one resource, but this issue ties back to the four news wires Google most likely paid to host that content, just like Yahoo! does, or MSN. These were licensing agreements. On MSN the top source is Reuters. Reuters is not part of the Google News agreement as it does have its own site, though it does not license its primary stories to third-party sites, they get a different class of content. On Yahoo!, the top shown news stories are from AP.

The issue I raise is this, what about the news sites that license content from sources like AFP, AP or CP? Do you think they want their links removed from Google News, having entered into license agreements with these top ‘news wires’? Do you think they like having their content removed from the news engine and the source they PAY getting that traffic instead? Is that fair? Is it legal?

This raises a lot of questions about how organizations like the Associated Press, Canadian Press Agency or Agence France-Presse view the market online – are they selling news under licenses only to take advantage of their customers?

In the U.S., there has been a shift in media which has been well-covered by the news. Newspapers struggle as their readership in print declines while online readership is rising and along with it web ad revenue, while print ad revenue continues to fall. Most of the nation’s readership, 95 percent in fact, is made up of smaller newspapers who are members of AP and buy their news from the Association at ever-increasing rates with greater restrictions being imposed on them in the electronic side of publishing – the web.

Standard & Poor’s on Friday said, “We continue to expect total advertising revenue for the industry to drop by low- to mid-single digits in 2007, ” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Emile Courtney.

“Secular and cyclical trends continue to pressure credit quality in the newspaper industry, with the shift of ad spending to the Internet unlikely to abate in the near term, ” said a report published Friday by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.

S&P notes that, “Despite 11 rating cuts in 2006 and five so far in 2007, the potential for further downgrades this year remains significant.”

While this may seem far a field, recently the Tribune Co. was sold in a highly leveraged deal to a real estate developer. While everyone pays attention to the top assets like the Chicago Cubs, it also owns McClatchy Tribune Interactive, and over 200 publishers and twice as many specialty publishers or columnists, rely on it to sell their news to third-parties. Many of them have been concerned about what will happen to it.

S&P cautions that debt, in a tight credit market, creates risk to the Tribune Co if it tries to sell assets in the future to pay down debt and can’t get the kind of money it was looking for. Good example, though not involved in publishing, is Home Depot, which just sold a wholesale building distributor and supply division for far less than it had anticipated for that very reason.

If the news distribution business unit of Tribune Co. is sold, who will buy it? McClatchy? They’re still reeling from the purchase of Knight Ridder last year. Remember when hundreds of journalists went home at night wondering if they were going to have a job tomorrow – or be out of work because McClatchy could buy the news from – you guessed it – the Associated Press? McClatchy, an owner of AP alongside the other top news organizations can’t afford to take on that kind of debt to buy it. In Fact, neither can EW Scripps or Gannett, who are also large benefactors of AP, being the top news organizations in the nation.

If you want to wear a black hat, think of this. If one of the few remaining sources where smaller publishers can go to sell their news – or buy it – goes out of business, what’s left? AP? Ah, the deception of it all. Thompson up in Canada bought Reuters, shrinking the source even further and with Tribune’s gone there would be little left. UPI? Forget it, they display their news on Google News in direct competition with their customers (and deliver content to them 45-minutes delayed) and with Google News’ new “duplicate detection” you wouldn’t get one click – in fact – your story would be removed from the index.

You either pay more or you don’t get the content – period! Think McClatchy, Gannett, the New York Times and EW Scripps benefit from that? You bet! After all, AP says it lost $23 million last year and was looking for ways to make more money. Hey, why not charge Google? Great idea! Why, AP’s own customers won’t mind being removed from Google News if they have ‘duplicate links” will they? Who cares! They can’t do anything about it – it’s the Associated Press! Hey, who owns the internet news baby!

I question whether the duplicate detection was a part of the deal with the news wires or was decided upon separately. Doubt we’ll ever know the answer to that riddle. While I question Google News’ motives and Josh Cohen’s accuracy in his statement about the news wires, we believe that all the major news engines – Yahoo and MSN – should practice the liberal form of including the broad mix of publishers still found on Google News. It’s hard enough out there trying to earn a living in the digital world of media let alone competing with the very sources most web publishers rely on for content without having places like Google News to get traffic from.