Google Updates Algorithm, Guidelines to Aid Original Stories

Publishers complain that their news scoops, when posted online, are quickly nabbed and recycled by other publications, leading to a loss in traffic. To stem the flow, Google made changes to its algorithm and its guidelines to favor original reporting. Google vice president of news Richard Gingras said that the company would make it easier for readers to “find the story that started it all.” He later added that the shift also benefited Google Search and Google News in its efforts to “retain the trust of [its] users.”

The New York Times reports that, among the new guidelines, Google would “elevate outlets known for a history of accurate reporting, considering metrics like how many journalism awards a publication has won.” The move is in answer to the harsh criticism Google’s YouTube has received for highlighting “inflammatory content [that] may attract views in the short run while damaging the reputation of any company that makes it widely available.”

What remained unclear was how, if at all, the new algorithm would positively impact publications in small and midsized cities. Gingras said the company is putting “increased effort” into figuring out “how … we [can] do right by local outlets.” He cited reporting on natural disasters as the type of local coverage that could benefit from the changes.

Google, along with Amazon and Facebook, is under scrutiny due both to its outsized influence over the digital news industry and domination of online advertising revenue. The trade group News Media Alliance has “lobbied lawmakers for a limited antitrust exemption that would enable outlets to bargain collectively with the platforms,” and some platforms have “signaled a willingness to work with publishers.”

The Apple News app inked deals with Condé Nast, among other publishers, to “highlight their articles and split revenue.” Facebook has proposed to license articles for a “News” tab.

News Media Alliance chief executive David Chavern “welcomed Google’s announcement but cautioned that he had to wait to see how the changes were carried out.” “Google search results have not rewarded investments in journalism,” he said. “If we can get to a place where they do better, that’s good.”

Gingras added that Google understands the challenges publishers face. “Some stories can also be both critically important in the impact they can have on our world and difficult to put together, requiring reporters to engage in deep investigative efforts to dig up facts and sources,” he said. “These are among the reasons why we aim to support these industry efforts.”