Monday, March 8, 2010

Why is Google News so bad? Hyperlocal and entrepreneurial journalists at a disadvantage

A quick thought: after using Google News for a couple of months to seek out relevant news stories to consider for this site one thing is clear: Google News is God-awful.

I suppose many won't find this a surprise, but I'm actually shocked at how bad it is. News stories stay at the top of the search list despite being old and never of value anyway; stories that are actually just links to other stories are featured because they come from traditional media sites, not the source; and finally, Google's idea of news is positively 20th century -- news from old, giant media outlets get top billing, real news is hidden, and "news" sites need to be approved by Google, otherwise Google News doesn't consider content provided by the site as "news".  In other words, if you are a New Media outlet you do not produce news, if you are old media you are part of the club.

Part of the problem lies in how Google defines "news" -- generated by an organization with a team of writers and editors. Clearly the Google folk have never worked at a newspaper. While a newspaper may employ teams of reporters and editors, stories are created by individuals, and most beats are handled by an individual writer. What happens when the newspaper lays off their architectural reporter? The way Google sees the world, if the reporter goes out on their own and creates a new web site and writes stories none of these stories can be considered news. But if one of the stories is picked up and reproduced by their old newspapers then suddenly the content is elevated to Google News status. How quaint.

Clearly this site can never get content to show up on Google News, and that will be a huge disadvantage. But the real issue is not who is a news producer and who is not, but what is news, and what is not. Google News loves press releases that are reproduced by old media outlets, for instance, but not news produced by individual journalists. Because of this, hyperlocal sites are handicapped from the day they launch. To compensate they will have to drive traffic through other aggregators and eventually get picked up by Google News only when their content shows up on a competitors site. Something is terribly wrong about that.