Here’s an interesting take on Google News I hadn’t thought of before, from Dana Blankenhorn, an Atlanta-based writer. He’s mad at Google for apparently allowing in to its news trawl clearly partisan sites that aren’t news, but opinion. At the same time, he says. Google is separating out blogs from its news searches — possibly because it may launch a separate search engine, as part of its buyout of Blogger, former host to loose wire. So anything that uses blogging software is out, sites that don’t, but have some kind of ‘news’ on, are in.
As Dana points out, this leaves a very skewed picture of the news at a sensitive time in American politics. With so many candidates and activists running blogs — especially among the Democrats — the apparent decision to leave blogs out but others in is being used by Republican webmasters to push political views into what is a news site. “Given the current intensity of American politics, this has a real effect, and seems to give Google a real ideological bias,” Dana writes.
I haven’t explored this allegation more fully: It will be interesting to see what Google have to say. I guess the broad lesson from this is that Google News is a news site, and therefore has to abide by certain rules whether it likes it or not. But Google is not a news site, in the sense that it has journalists, editors and photographers out there making editorial decisions about what is news and what isn’t, since it automates its news searching and presentation. Indeed, it proudly acknowledges there are no humans involved.
So Google will have to make a choice: include everything in its news trawl to avoid accusations of bias (at the moment it numbers 4,500 news sources), restrict the news to only bona fide news outlets, or install a team of editors to ensure the material that appears on the website, and the way it appears, are balanced.
In the end, of course, news is not something computers do well. I know: I’ve seen big news agencies try to do it. Even simple stock market reports require some human distillation to make them meaningful (and not look silly). Google, perhaps, is just finding out that there’s no really cheap way to enter the news business.