What's the mysterious plague that's killing newspapers? According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it's not search engines, Craigslist, or Monster.com. It's those agonizingly slow-loading websites!

Schmidt spoke today at the Newspaper Association of America's annual convention. (Can you believe they still have those?) During a Q&A after his speech, he was asked what newspapers did wrong. His response:

I think the sites are slow. They literally are not fast. They're actually slower than reading the paper, and that's something that can be worked on on a technical basis. I should also mention that at Google we're working hard to try to address the technological question that you're asking but we don't have easy answers here. This is something where better development tools, better hosting tools, and so forth from the industry as a whole will make a big difference.

Also, Schmidt applauds newspapers for adopting blogs ("That was great, you guys did a superb job") but thinks they haven't done anything since then. He asked the rhetorical question:

How do you avoid being just mediated with a set of stories that are aggregated with your brand on them, which is what's happened to some newspapers?

Exactly the question some newspapers are asking, which is why AP chairman Dean Singleton wishes people would stop Googling the news.

Luckily, Schmidt and Singleton aren't the only voices in this conversation. One of Eric Schmidt's Google underlings explored this question in depth in a related blog post today. Associate General Counsel Alexander Macgillivray's well-reasoned conclusion: He likes Phish.