"What if the newspaper industry does go down?" Lashinsky asks.
Schmidt replies: "To me this presents a real tragedy in the sense that journalism is a central part of democracy. And if it can't be funded because of these business problems, then that's a real loss in terms of voices and diversity. And I don't think bloggers make up the difference. The historic model of investigative journalists in any industry is something that is very fundamental. So the question is, What can you do about this? I think it is a fair statement to say we're still looking for the right answer."
There may indeed be nothing Google can do to boost print circulation. But there's plenty Google can do to help the news industry, which is terrified about the loss of print circulation primarily because it hasn't yet found a way to comparably monetize its journalism online. There's also plenty Google can do to maintain or even increase the amount of quality journalism available on the Internet.
Off the top of my head:
* "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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* Create a journalist-mediated repository of citizen journalism. Hire professional journalists to "accredit" excellent citizen journalism and train citizen journalists.
* Create "endowed chairs" for bloggers who can then quit their day-jobs and do actual reporting as well as blogging.
* Contribute to nonprofit journalistic ventures and foundations, i.e. ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity - and NiemanWatchdog.org (where I am deputy editor and where this post first appeared.)
Got more ideas? Post them below!