Google has a problem. Google News.
Let’s list the elements of this problem:
- It doesn’t make money. There are no ads on it.
- Its algorithm is sketchy with regard to time. I often find day-old news highlighted on the front page.
- Its algorithm is sketchy with regard to content. Google has yet to properly define what’s a news item and what isn’t.
- Its algorithm can be sketchy with regard to access. Sites that sit behind registration requirements are sometimes linked with (reg. req.) markers. Others don’t get the markers, and others don’t get the links.
- Google News doesn’t get all the news. Organizations that complain, as Agence France-Presse did, get stripped out. So do their affiliates. (Or do they?)
- Google News likes to say it doesn’t negotiate with news sources. But sometimes, as in the case of AP, it has done just that.
- Google News generally ignores blogs. (This one, for instance.) Some blogs should be ignored, but others shouldn’t be.
- Google AdSense is denying ad revenue to valid news sites that dare to go after controversial stories.
Why is this happening? Simple. Lack of attention. There’s no one in charge at Google News who can set policy, defend that policy, and deal with the inevitable complaints.
Now it’s very possible that Google doesn’t want the tsuris that would result from setting a policy — any policy. News organizations still sometimes whinge that Google "steals" their content by linking to it, and expect to be paid for the links. These same organizations don’t want their stuff placed next to sites they consider beneath them, and they consider all competition (especially blogs) to be beneath them.
Google has taken some actions on the three-year old site. It scrubbed right-wing hack sites like Newsmax from the top of its algorithms — this after seeing searches for "John Kerry" turn out nothing but attacks through the November 2004 election. (These days the same sites like to run stories calling Google leftist.) But this has not been a consistent policy — sites like HuffingtonPost.Com are there. (The criticism has some merit.)
So how do we solve this:
Find someone who has impeccable credentials on all sides of the news world as editor of Google News. This is mainly a policy position. I’d raise my hand, but they really need a name. (A name like Charlayne Hunter-Gault, at right.)
- Set some policies (in consultation with the industry) and announce them.
- Defend the policies, publicly, and in court.
- Put ads on Google News to make up your costs.
Whoever is named as editor should make it their first priority to build an "advisory board" (nominally paid) with representatives from real news organizations, blog organizations, right-and-left blogistan, the whole nine yards. And international — lots of international.
The benefits of this approach are many-fold:
- Turn a money pit into a profit-center.
- Build policies that can be used for video (which Google has yet to really exploit).
- Unify news and the blogosphere.
The alternative is to close it down. Just shut down Google News and let people link to news stories via Yahoo or Microsoft. Note that I didn’t presume people will stop seeking "aggregation" in order to see a wide range of news sources at once. They will.
Google News, in other words, is already a success.