PR, Google News, and reporter dread

Apparently, Google News led with a press release today. As CBS Marketwatch notes:

On Tuesday, a news release from Schaeffer’s Investment Research, highlighting Best Buy and Circuit City, was the top “story” on Google’s business-news page. Press releases often include significant information, no doubt. But most living, breathing editors would be chagrined to see that type of snafu on their pages. At that moment in time, on Dec. 17, the Schaeffer’s release topped the story about New York prosecutors securing their first guilty plea in the case against Tyco.

But, really, what are we to expect? Google assigned that typically hallowed job of story placement to a software program — a secret sauce of algorithms.

I’ve been interested watching the cackling glee of reporters as they catch Google News in its many small errors. Because of course, two things are totally obvious here: 1) Newsbots like Google News will never totally supplant traditional newsgathering. Nonetheless, 2) reporters have done a simply enormous amount of handwringing over this possibility.

Why? I think reporters’ dread is a submerged, nigh-Freudian fear. Google News may mess up every once a while, but most of the time it’s sufficiently good that it showcases just how lame most real newspapers are. The newsgathering skills of most reporters — and their inverted-pyramid style — are so deeply programmatic and devoid of creativity that they’re as close to robotic as you can get.

Sure, reporters may be getting freaked out by automatons. But then again, it takes one to know one.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson