When Sam Zell, who has just become a major player in the newspaper industry, is making comments like these published in the Washington Post, I fear for the future of newspapers affected by this sort of ignorance:

In conversations before and after a speech Zell delivered Thursday night at Stanford Law School in Palo Alto, Calif., the billionaire said newspapers could not economically sustain the practice of allowing their articles, photos and other content to be used free by other Internet news aggregators.

“If all of the newspapers in America did not allow Google to steal their content, how profitable would Google be?” Zell said during the question period after his speech. “Not very.”

This is the person who will soon own Tribune Co., which publishes the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun, saying that Google linking to the stories written in these newspapers somehow harms their business. Let’s get his point straight, now: Someone who sees a headline on Google, clicks on it to read the full story, and goes to the newspaper’s website, filled with advertising sold by that newspaper, is harmful to the newspaper. Let’s distill that a bit further: Readers are harmful to the newspaper.

Somehow I doubt that’s what he actually thinks. I assume he became a billionaire by knowing that customers are good things to have. However, it seems that he believes Google News steals content. Hmm, let’s see…headlines with links, a teaser taken from the beginning of the article, and some small pictures. Thank goodness, I don’t have to read any of those articles! Google has completely informed me! Of course, Google is making money off this page from…from…oh, there isn’t any advertising here.

It took approximately ten seconds to determine that Google News provides links to news, headlines, the same kind of teasers the newspapers sites run, and some small pictures that serve the same teaser function, all without selling ads that compete with the newspaper. Maybe it’s just me. but it seems like Zell should be thanking them for the free service.

Also seems like Zell doesn’t worry too much about research. Nice to know he’ll be running newspapers.

Doc Searls and Jason Calacanis cover this one in more depth.