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Google’s A.I. Search Leaves Publishers Scrambling

When Frank Pine searched Google for a link to a news article two months ago, he encountered paragraphs generated by artificial intelligence about the topic at the top of his results. To see what he wanted, he had to scroll past them.

That experience annoyed Mr. Pine, the executive editor of Media News Group and Tribune Publishing, which own 68 daily newspapers across the country. Now, those paragraphs scare him.

In May, Google announced that the A.I.-generated summaries, which compile content from news sites and blogs on the topic being searched, would be made available to everyone in the United States. And that change has Mr. Pine and many other publishing executives worried that the paragraphs pose a big danger to their brittle business model, by sharply reducing the amount of traffic to their sites from Google.

“It potentially chokes off the original creators of the content,” Mr. Pine said. The feature, AI Overviews, felt like another step toward generative A.I. replacing “the publications that they have cannibalized,” he added.

Media executives said in interviews that Google had left them in a vexing position. They want their sites listed in Google’s search results, which for some outlets can generate more than half of their traffic. But doing that means Google can use their content in AI Overviews summaries.

Publishers could also try to protect their content from Google by forbidding its web crawler from sharing any content snippets from their sites. But then their links would show up without any description, making people less likely to click.

Another alternative — refusing to be indexed by Google, and not appearing on its search engine at all — could be fatal to their business, they said.

“We can’t do that, at least for now,” said Renn Turiano, the head of product at Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper publisher.

Yet AI Overviews, he said, “is greatly detrimental to everyone apart from Google, but especially to consumers, smaller publishers and businesses large and small that use search results.”

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