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Readers repelled by PR subterfuge
On Friday (April 4, 2003), Google confirmed that it included lobby group and corporate press releases as News, "but generally we don't lead with them". The reaction from readers, below, can be summed up as: "How did they think they could get away with it?"
Revulsion and distrust - and a call for regulating the search engine superpower - dominate this weekend's mailbag.
Press releases are for investors, and they get them posted to them anyway...
Dom De Vitto
"As a public librarian who has just placed Google News as a link on our library website, I hope that Google will change their minds forthwith, and use only accepted journalistic sources. Good luck!
Why is Google shooting itself in the foot?
In providing information, credibility is everything. Any source, whether of raw information or an index of it (like Google), loses mightily as soon as it's known to be biased. Google has already caved more than once to provincial interests (e.g. mainland China), and as soon as it adopts a policy of sourcing news from special interests, it won't be news any more, but just hands-off propaganda.
The only way to preserve an even-handed reputation would be to source ONLY real news sources (including anti-Western ones like Al-Jazeera), or to include ALL press releases (including those from North Korea, Greenpeace, and anti-war foundations).
But I'm not holding my breath. My guess is that Google is lazy, and they want to accept stories from big (i.e. rich and mainstream-Western) outfits which don't threaten their advertising revenue. So until I start seeing a wider diversity in their highest-ranking stories, I'm going back to something whose biases I'm familiar with, like the New York Times.
Forget Google News.
Companies are vested interests and their press releases lack wider context, independent scrutiny, and presentation tailored to the requirements of a specific audience.
This isn't news, it's advertising. What led Google to confuse the two?
Advertising in the United Kingdom is required to be legal, decent, honest, and truthful. Press releases lack this restriction. Given the deceitful redefinition of the word "news" and lack of monitoring, will Google remove all press releases for United Kingdom based surfers?
By subverting the general publics defences Google is placing a great deal of power without responsibility in the hands of large, well organised, and well-funded companies. Will Google redress the balance by giving the general public a means to redress the balance?
Search engine success has enabled Google to effectively monopolise access to Internet content. Google's services now enjoy the same privileged position Microsoft applications enjoy on the Microsoft Windows desktop. Is it time that Google were regulated?
Charles E. Hardwidge
I'm just writing in case you are forming a list of Google users who feel this is tainting their image. I totally agree with what you are saying. We need an English news source that is more reliable than most major networks and Google News is definitely earning the biased news reporting status.
Thank you for bringing this matter to light.
This is EXACTLY what is wrong with the world today. When the people who are meant to provide independent news coverage of factual circumstances is polluted by the interests of other entities not related to the news, INDEPENDENCE SUFFERS and the trustworthiness of the news provided is shattered.
Unfortunately however many people do not question the sources of the news they read and blindly accept what they are told, which leads to ignorance, which is what allows corrupt dictators and capitalist corporations to have their greedy way.
When people refer to 'The News', News is not simply another word for 'information'. 'News' should be the presentation of fact, done for the benefit of the person receiving the news, not for the person providing the news.
Press releases are all well and good, when released by the company to which they pertain, as people are aware that the company may have it's own self-serving agenda for disclosing the information.
However when press releases are accepted by lazy content providers as news, without editing, alongside real news, people are more likely to accept as fact that the information provided within the article is true, whereas it is very likely to be a self-serving and biased view of the situation.
We have seen this kind of thing enough times before, and it is scary.
THE NEWS SHOULD NOT BE POLLUTED!
They probably think (and it may not be too far from the truth) that press releases are as valid news as the pap we are fed from the big media conglomerates.
I respect their giving us the choice of what version on history we want to read on their news page. At the same time I am pained by their insane search function.
Please ask Google where I can send my press release so that we can get the same coverage as say, a Philip Morris press release. Does BIG MONEY have something to do here...regardless of relative contribution to society?
I am continually reminded of a quote from Voltaire: "History is a lie commonly agreed upon".
Your recent reports on Google topics were fantastic. As Google has crept into my Internet life as well as many others it is only too important to keep both eyes open regarding its developments.
Yours were the first really useful reports on that I've come across so far.
B. Oswald (Germany)
Your recent articles show what the dangers could lie ahead. A few webloggers manage outpunch their weight and put a healthy spin on any topic when somebody is searching for information.
And if they wish to verify the information, they search the news section and read an entirely unbiased (I'm sure) press release. And this is all managed by a private organization with a touchy-feely public face.
Well, that's what could happen. And I'm paranoid enough to think it's important to make sure it doesn't happen rather than hoping.
So, no questions. But *please* keep up the good work.
- http://prnewswire.com provides press releases.
The problem here is simply that Google is making "what is news?" judgments without putting real journalists in the loop.
Has to be that, because no competent journalist would make the mistake you describe. While a real news organization uses press releases, it is because someone, not *something* decided that their content is in fact, news.
Most press releases go to their natural homes, the circular file or the bit bucket. Google is throwing them onto the front page...
Automatically including unexamined press releases in a newsfeed isn't going to even occur to someone who passed Journalism 101 at the high school level.
For automatically generated news surveys, I use the Columbia School of Journalism's Newsblaster and recommend it to your readers. It's a lot more useful than the Google News you're describing.
The question to Google staff I recommend is: "Who makes your 'what is news' judgements and what are their background and qualifications?"
The proper placement for embedded RIAA "journalists" in combat organizations is chained to the front bumpers of tanks just before going into harm's way.
It's really sad seeing Google go from geek toy to just another corporate mouthpiece. No matter how good their tech is, if they don't save their "cool factor" very, very soon, their IPO is never going to happen. Which would also be sad, I want to see people make money in this space.
As a regular user, I think this would be something that could easily send me back to Ananova. :-(
Good to see someone's actually trying to de-slant the digital diarrhoea that passes for 'news' these days. The coverage of Iraq, in particular, has the stench of 3rd Reich quality propaganda to it.
Keep up the job!
Google no longer the champion of the common user? Has corporate interest finally corrupted Google?
It seems likely... :-(
Err, paging Larry and Sergei! Put down your toys. I think we have a problem... ®