It is probably no coincidence that this comes at the same time News Corp. (NWS) is floating the idea of micropayments for access to Wall Street Journal stories online to generate income. Somehow, some way, the reporters who do the footwork and write the seminal stories that are subsequently regurgitated throughout the mediasphere need to be paid. Advertising doesn't seem to be producing the bucks needed to feed the kitty. So either those who rely on the content figure out a solution or risk having one imposed on them.
Google has shown a willingness to contribute content to the internet (Google Books, for example), so I wouldn't be shocked if it was willing to partner with original content providers such as The New York Times. While people may not be willing to pay for content from run of the mill sources, I think it is possible that the online world could be segregating into authoritative sites vs. the hoi poli. Such a bifurcation could be good news for Google, as it could charge a great deal more for advertising on the higher-tier sites, especially if they were bundled.
Perhaps Google could serve as a bundler of content that is written under the highest journalistic standards. Would you be willing to pay a monthly subscription for unlimited access to stories from a bundle of first-tier news sources, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and other dailies of similar reputation? I would.
Thinking even farther afield, perhaps the newspapers included in such a bundle could be paid based on how many readers view each of their stories. These counts could, over time, serve as votes by readers for which writers and publications provide the most appealing and informative coverage, useful info if the consortium needs to pare away duplication of effort.
Certainly the newspaper industry needs more help from Google than merely serving ads more efficiently. Google has made its fortune from questions; perhaps it can do as well with answers. And The New York Times is one trustworthy provider of answers that could benefit from a restructuring of news production and access.