Google’s Fascinating News Experiment

I have long wondered if or when Google would get into the media business directly, buying up a newspaper company or three. My friends at Google always reply with the same mantra: We are a search company, not a content company. Okay.

Regardless, it’s undeniable that Google has greatly affected how journalism is consumed in this country and, consequently but to a lesser degree, how journalism is created. Journalism is a market like any other, and it responds to market forces.

Consider now this really fascinating idea that Google is rolling out: a feature that allows the subjects of news articles to comment on the published article.

This makes sense, doesn’t it? The writer has his/her say by writing the article; the everyday reader gets to weigh in via the comments section; and now the subject gets to reply in a highlighted comment section.

If this becomes widely implemented (no guarantee), I think it will shake up a lot of people, mostly for the better. I always try to glean feedback from the subject of an article that I write, and I generally find it valuable. I can’t think of a good reason why the subject shouldn’t be allowed to speak up in a forum that everybody, and not just the writer, can see.

(Hat tip: Sam Diaz, via Romenesko.)


Paul

"I can't think of a good reason why the subject shouldn't be allowed to speak up in a forum that everybody, and not just the writer, can see."

Gee, what about speaking for the record in the article itself? What about resisting the urge to tell your assistant to say that you're "unavailable for comment"?

M F

But what about that whole objectivity thing? Kind of hard to hang on to that when the person most likely to be biased - the subject - gets to pen a coda to the article.

John Mott

I agree with the comments in your last paragraph. If you have ever had the "pleasure" of reading an article about a subject with which your are intimately familiar, you know the frustration of seeing a factual reply that is at best 50% correct. Worst yet is the spin imparted so that the article is more "interesting" to the reader, which can and often does distort the facts. All of this of course in most cases to enhance the career of the writer, because after all journalism is as you say a business and driven by revenue.
Seems more and more these days juornalism is more interested in a story than the facts.

Me

How will Google confirm the subject is who he says he is?

Brad

Although Google makes its money off other people's content, it's not allowing other aggregators to crawl the new comments you discuss here. If all othert content producers excluded Google's Web cralers from their content, Google would immediately be out of business. This is hypocritical and suggests the company is getting out of touch.

Beau

Hopefully this will allow those quoted to provide some oversight to the article and give context if they feel they have been misquoted. That would be great, but I have the feeling that this is going to be about as successful as any blog comments or as neglected as some of their less polished offerings.

Gabriele Dellanave

Good idea, the forum, hope it doesn't get manipulated by pseudo-names and/or corporations as it is done now in some website and chat rooms.

xyb

Check out how this very approach works at Brains on Fire. The writer posts a story (opinion, in this case), readers comment, but, somehow, the subjects of the original article are clued in so that they can speak as well.

This is the way communication should work.

Here's the post: http://brainsonfire.com/blog/mcsavvy-marketing/

I would have loved to see the subjects' comments highlighted better than simply "reader comments." Can't wait to see how this plays out.

Donut

Considering that most (non-specialist) newspaper and magazine articles get details wrong on things I know about, I have always assumed that they must get a lot of details wrong on the things I don't know about. I am ridiculously excited about this feature because it has the potential to cause a really important change in how stories are written. Since the authors will know that their works will be available to instant, public, and searchable criticism from their subjects, they will have great incentive to get the details correct, the quotes accurate, and the "story" fair.

I bet within a year, there will be indexes of writers, sorted by reputation, that will allow the reader to make educated decisions about who to trust. Whuffie, indeed.

Thank you, Google.

Joseph Rothrock

What if Google makes a mistake in authenticating a subject?

Who edits the comments from subjects?

Who gets to speak on behalf of subjects that are institutions such as governments, corporations, religions, clubs, etc?

Sam Reiff-Pasarew

Why should we think that the subject has any more interest in the truth than the Journalist? I imagine that for every journalist who gets something wrong, there is a subject trying to distort the facts in their own favor.

blaknecr

If anything this mechanism could lead to greater factual responsibility and accountability among journalists. The Jason Blair's of the journalism would have a hard time existing.

Liberty McAteer

Please tell me how this is any different from the comment I am posting right now.

I find, saddeneningly, that traditional media outlets, such as the NYTimes (which I love, keep up the good work), really misunderstand how news and the internet relate to each other. Digg, Reddit, Del.icio.us, Newsvine, etc, already have a pretty good lock on this market, and they exist largely unbeknowst to you traditional media types (read: old folks).

In my opinion, which you can take with all the salt you want, google news will really be no different from Digg or Reddit, and unless they really bring some new and interesting features to their product -- commenting on articles is NOT on this list -- I see very little reason that I will switch from my daily Reddit/Digg read to Google news. Sorry guys.

Alexis S

If the journalist did their job right, the article would be unbiased and reflect all sides of a story to begin with.

Dan Sullivan

I am excited about this feature and it's potential. Unfortunately, differing opinions and points of view will always exist. There will always be two sides to the story, and it will still be up to the reader to sift through and determine their own opinion.

I don't think this will be some sort of magic wand to get the "truth" out there, but intelligent (hopefully) debate by interested parties is a good place to start.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

I'm waiting for hand-to-hand combat matches between writer and subject of writer's article. Until then, I will be a bit bored. Of course, a nice letter from the subject to the editor refuting all the writer's dastardly charges (and mediocre descriptive abilities) is always nice to read (for now). But I suppose it's a little too hum-drum for this interactive world of ours.

Pam the PR Proxy

somebody mentioned spin - there are entire public relations efforts to turn stories at every level. There's nothing like being interviewed, seeing the article, then getting another chance to respond to the charges, does the write get a chance to reply back? bring on the combat matches (per Rita)

R!ck

I'm not exactly sure if it's the journalist's intention or not, but almost every time I read an article mentioning me or something I am fairly knowledgeable about, it's guaranteed that there will be at least one misquote or factual error. This new commenting feature will surely help not only the subject (by allowing a *more visible* forum to clarify certain points of the article) and the public (by preventing the spread of misinformation), but also the journalist (by requiring a more strict adherence to the truth and increasing credibility).

Matt Rose

Of course the subject of the article will be biased.
But if we know it is the subject writing comments, then we know their bias.
When we know where the author is coming from there is no mystery what the bias is.

knappbrian

I like the idea of letting the subject weight in, but their comments should be put in perspective. #11 above hit the nail on the head.

"Why should we think that the subject has any more interest in the truth than the Journalist? I imagine that for every journalist who gets something wrong, there is a subject trying to distort the facts in their own favor."

Subjects are naturally looking out for their own hides. Presumably, a good journalist who wants to get the story right is more credible than the subject, who just wants to look good. On an article about big tobacco for instance, how much value should we give to the inevitable response? Bill Moyers once said, "journalism is what powerul people don't want you to know, everything else is just propoganda."