When each local newspaper was a self-contained, non-overlapping, monopoly distribution channel, the news wires made all of the sense in the world — why have each newspaper spend its own resources to cover the same national and international stories? Just pool all of the newspapers’ resources and do it once.

But on the web, where anyone can access any information source in the world, news wires no longer makes as much sense, for the inverse reason that they once made sense — why should every newspaper carry the same version of the same story which can be accessed anywhere, including news portals, like Yahoo News, and now…Google News?

The wire version of a story used to be a valuable resource for a print newspaper. Online, it’s now a commodity, and Google has just completed the process of commodification.

The most salient line from Google’s announcement that Google News will now be hosting the full text of wire stories from four different services is this:

“Because of Google’s campaign to simultaneously reduce duplicate articles, the original wire service article is likely to be featured in Google News instead of versions of the same article from newspaper customers, sapping ad revenue to those newspapers.”

Google has long waged a battle against “duplicate content,” because it was a strategy for spamming the search index — Google punishes sites that use many versions of the same content to get try to get a more prominent search ranking for that content.

Now it appears that Google is taking the same approach to syndicated content — wire services like AP may be responsible for more duplicate content on the web than any other publisher.

There has been much hand-wringing about how local newspapers that publish “duplicate” AP content will no longer get traffic from Google News. These newspapers have been competing with the Yahoo News version of the AP stories for a long time in any case.

As William Hartnett points out, this traffic was probably not worth much anyway:

Were you getting loads of high-quality traffic, as opposed to drive-by one-timers, to generic, non-local wire copy on your site? Were people on The Internets beating down the virtual door of your localnewspaper.com looking for the latest, already-available-everywhere updates on big national and international stories?

Here’s the next question that all news organizations need to ask themselves — what’s UNIQUE about your coverage of a big story? Google News has purged all of the word-for-word duplicate content generated by wire services, but if you click on the 1,000+ other articles for any story on Google News, you’ll find dozens of news organizations covering the same story, often with all of the same facts.

In a siloed media world, this made sense. In a networked media world, is it really the best use of resources?

Matthew Ingram, as usual, puts his arms around all of the perspectives in this debate.

I’ll add one other observation — Google’s hosting wire stories will have an even broader impact, now that Google is featuring Google News results so prominently in its main web search results.

For example, many people don’t go to Google News to find out about a news story — they go to the main Google search. So let’s try searching for a story that is now in the news — one where people would likely want to find out more — “spinach recall

google-spinach-recall.jpg

If you look closely, you’ll notice something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a Google search result — the first three links all take you to another Google page.

Google used to be ALL about sending you elsewhere — but now Google may be shifting its focus to keep you on Google.