Google News: Humans Beat Robots, At Last!

Google News has been around a long, long time. Going live bac  in 2002, it heralded what some feared was the demise of human editorial.  With the explosive growth of content, it seemed that ever smarter robots would be able to find, sort and organise the ‘news YOU need to know’  and create an auto-magical web newszine that would meet all your information and info-tainment needs.

As Neiman Journalism Lab’s Megan Garber reminds us: “When Google News launched in 2002, it did so with some declarations: “This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors.” And: “No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page.”

Yet, as it turned out – humans were harmed in fact. The news business, which had done a fine  job of harming itself by ignoring in large part the emergence of a new way to both make and engage information,  found that Google News and the rise of the robots further diminished their importance in the news ecosystem.

Which is why, after almost a decade, Google is somewhat sheepishly admitting that humans are, well, useful after all.

Google News, as of today, includes “Editor’s Picks,” stories chosen by humans rather than robots. And perhaps even more telling, the editors don’t work at Google, but rather are the actual human editors at the publications that, for a time, seemed about to be made obsolete.

Explains Google: “The links you see in Editors’ Picks are hand-picked by the news organisation whose logo is displayed above the links. Google News does not select the articles.”

And Google goes on to provide a rather comprehensive guide to how humans at publications can provide editorial tips to the search engine. 

What Google is embracing – finally – is the emergence of human curation as a central and critical editorial effort in the increasingly noisy web. Curation, it seems, trumps robots when it comes to both interestingness and editorial tone and voice.

The names of the organisations providing human editorial to Google are a veritable who’s who of web publishers including: Slate, National Journal, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ProPublica, BBC News, MSNBC.com, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Root, Politico, MarketWatch, and The Guardian.

And as Garber sharply points out, Editors Picks allow publications to surface more than ‘news’,  they can point to slide shows, videos,  or other features that Google’s spiders might never have found or surfaced.  

Says Garber: “While Google’s relationship with the news industry has been a rocky one, Editors’ Picks suggests that it could now be turning a corner — from passive collaboration to active, from algorithmic connection to something more intentional.”

From algorithmic to intentional  – indeed.

And Google appears to be listening to readers more as well,  users can click the arrows to tab through different sources, and use the slider at the bottom to let them know what publications they’d like to see more or less from.

There’s a change in the air – publishers and editors are more and more where readers are going for clarity and editorial ‘voice’ in a world of too-much information.  Human curators pick up where robot editors leave off. Stay tuned, there’s a lot more happening in this space.

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