Google wants newsmakers to write the news

Although Mike Arrington seems less than impressed with it, I think Google’s plan to allow comments on Google News stories — but only from people involved in a news event — is actually a pretty interesting idea. There’s no question that it’s going to be a lot of effort, and that it may in fact fail as a result, but I think the impulse behind it (as described on the Google blog) is a valuable one.

In effect, this is a step towards “crowdsourcing” of the news, but in a very focused way. Instead of allowing anyone to comment on a news event or story, Google’s plan is to only allow comments from those who are a part of the story (although how the company plans to verify that remains to be seen). I think — as Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests does — that this has the potential to expand the journalistic process.

For many newspapers and other news organizations, a story has a limited lifespan, unless it is one of a small number of big headliners that get followed up day after day, or month after month. Whoever responds in time to get their comments included in the story makes it into print, and those that don’t are rarely heard from.

I found it interesting that in the Wall Street Journal story on the new feature, a professor of pediatrics who was asked by Google to comment on a story in which he was quoted said this:

“I’ll do a 15- to 20-minute interview, and two sentences will appear about what I’ve said… So the Google feature is really a chance to flesh out those two sentences and to include some more of what I ordinarily talk about in a 15- to 20-minute interview.”

Google’s proposal has the potential to allow unheard-from participants to make themselves heard, and thus make news stories more complete — as pointed out at Poynter Online and by my mesh friend Mike Masnick at Techdirt — and I think that would be a great idea, at least in principle. In any case, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Update:

As Mike notes at TechCrunch (courtesy of Gabe “Techmeme” Rivera), the terms of service at Google News prevent anyone from crawling the site and aggregating any of its content — but this doesn’t seem very kosher if Google is now effectively creating (or expanding on) the news. And Danny Sullivan has some responses from Google to questions about the new feature.

5 thoughts on “Google wants newsmakers to write the news

  1. Glad to hear that I’m not the only one who can see beyond all of the details for what this might represent about the future. 😉

  2. Matt…I’m not so sure this is “crowdsourcing” of any kind, but more of a ploy on the part of Google to get some free content for a news product that nobody can seem to find (Gabe Rivera noted that Google News does some original content–but who can find it?)

    Crowdsourcing,though, assumes that people are going to work on stories because they want to, not because they’re compelled to correct something they believe is wrong with a story. And, if you think about it, are people going to have all the time necessary to write in to Google News…

    There are also some ethical questions here…along with many, many other questions…

  3. It would be nice for people being written about to have something similar to a single location where they could respond if they felt misquoted or wanted to add additional insight beyond what made the story. It becomes impossible for people to do this if the same story appears in hundreds of news sites.

  4. Tish, I’m not sure it’s a ploy — I think Google might actually believe it’s a valuable thing to do (although it’s impossible to know for sure, of course).

    I recognize that there are lots of problems with the idea, which I think you and others have laid out. But I still think it has value — if it is done properly.

    But then I guess you could say that about a lot of things 🙂

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