The hunt for reliable news is harder today

Above: A reputable Las Vegas newspaper, the Las Vegas Review–Journal.

I’m not going to weigh in on the debate surrounding the US Second Amendment today, but what I will say is whether we like their politicians or not, the victims in Las Vegas didn’t deserve their fates. My thoughts and prayers go to them and their families.
   One related observation from a very good friend was that one local (albeit foreign-owned) media outlet was running live web coverage of the shooting, and questioned whether this was of any real interest to New Zealanders. It could be, to use her words, ‘disaster voyeurism.’
   I have to agree. If you were concerned for a loved one who was there, you’re more likely on Las Vegas, Nevada, or US national news media, and not a local one.
   There is some public interest in it, of course. This is a country we have a connection with, but arguably not to this extent.
   Now, I don’t totally begrudge a publisher trying to make money from breaking news, either, since we all have to eat, but in chatting to my friend I had to look at what was enabling this to happen.
   I’m not one to knock having a global market-place, either, as I’ve benefited from it. And there is a global market-place for news. However, it does seem out of kilter that a locally targeted website covers international news to this minute detail. It’s not like those media outlets that aimed to be global despite having a local or national base (the British tabloids come to mind, such as the Mail and The Guardian), where you could rightly expect that.
   It’s hard to avoid that this is a cynical grab for clicks, and I point my finger at Google News.
   I might have de-Googled a lot of my life, but I always maintained that I would keep using Google News, as it’s a service I find some utility from. But a while back, Google News changed its focus. Rather than reward the outlet that broke a news item, it tended to take people to mainstream media outlets. We used to get rewarded for breaking stories. Now the mainstream media do. There’s less incentive for independent media to do so because we’re not being rewarded meritoriously. As Spanish publishers discovered, Google News sends you traffic, and it gets to decide whom is to be rewarded. When Google News shut its Spanish service, traffic to small publishers fell: it was independents that suffered the most.
   Therefore, if we had the old algorithm, those searching today for news of the Las Vegas shooting would see the outlet(s) that broke the news first leading their searches, and other media would follow. That would be in line with the Google I liked during the first decade of this century. It, too, was once a plucky upstart and for years it rewarded other plucky upstarts.
   From my experience having broken stories that other publishers eventually do, searches now take you to mainstream outlets, and, if Google’s “bubbling” of its regular search results is any indication, they take you to mainstream outlets in your own country, or those that you (and others like you, because it has the data on this) have traditionally favoured.
   Proponents might argue that that is a good thing: the local outlet might express things in more familiar language or the layout might be more comforting, but I question whether that helps people discover fresh perspectives. It certainly doesn’t get you the best news if it’s not the best source, the ones that were responsible for the first reports.
   It encourages a blatant grab for clicks for international outlets, knowing Google News will send enough people their way to make this worthwhile. If a New Zealand website reporting either second-hand or having less informed sources still benefits from the traffic from locals and some foreigners, then why not, and to heck with journalists who can do it better? Are we really getting our fair share of the traffic when it might not actually be fair for us to do so?
   It doesn’t make for a richer news environment if it’s just about the clicks. Yet this is the world we live in—and for some reason we still love Google.
   I might add this change in policy long predates the US president’s first utterance of the term ‘fake news’.
   Merit is out, big firms are in, as far as the Googlebot is concerned. And that’s yet another reason we should be very wary of the big G.

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5 thoughts on “The hunt for reliable news is harder today

  1. I would very much disagree with your description of the the Las Vegas Review Journal as being a “reputable” newspaper. It lost that distinction when Sheldon Adelson purchased the newspaper, the editor resigned, and most of the ‘best’ journalists who worked for that paper quit. The quality of their news since then has gone down tremendously. Sheldon Adelson is using it to promote his interests.

    Since then, an independent newspaper (the Nevada Independent) has started and committed to good journalism for Las Vegas and our State of Nevada. We wait to see if it can be sustained on donations, which is the primary mechanism currently keeping it afloat.

    Even if many of the articles in the Las Vegas Review Journal are not “fake news”, it is heavily biased in its slant of the news, particularly anything that could affect Sheldon Adelson’s interests. Today, we need to be even more critical in our thinking and reading than ever before! What you describe regarding google news is but one more cog in this ever growing problem!

  2. Thanks, JD. Admittedly my dealings with the Review–Journal were a decade ago. Your comment certainly demonstrates the importance of local knowledge, which someone outside Nevada would lack. When searching for newspapers, the Nevada Independent did not even show up in my first page of results (and I was specifically searching for independent newspapers), highlighting again how search engines can let us down. It also never showed up in Google News when I clicked to read related articles on the Las Vegas shooting, right before I wrote this post—confirming that Google really downplays independent voices.

  3. Google, said to say has also become very left-wing, to the point where they are fascist in their coverage of anything patriotic here in the US. They aren’t any different than the Huffington Post. Criticising is one thing, out and out blatant distortion of actual facts is quite another thing. Most of the major tv stations in the US are following suit with Google. The CBS attorney’s comments on the shootings in Las Vegas is a prime example of their newscasters and talk shows views. CBS did fire her, but don’t they screen their employees before employment? It’s really sad that people here in America have such a hatred for their country.

  4. We definitely know Google does very suspicious moves, e.g. there’s an allegation that it had people fired from a think-tank because they agreed with the EU’s antitrust authority to fine them €2,420 million; and Vivaldi’s CEO says its Adwords account was suspended after he criticized them in Wired. The timing’s too suspicious. We also know they hacked Iphones (they got fined in the US for this), libel websites (I’ve been the victim of this), and lie about privacy (if you go back on this blog, there was a 2011 case where I revealed that Google was storing user preferences after users had opted out; something, I might add, that Facebook now does). While we can’t watch CBS here, as the content is geo-locked, we certainly see political bias in our media (though leaning the other way). Therefore, I can’t comment on what the attorney said but it does appear that certain forces want to divide people for the sake of big firms or their political beliefs.

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