Fight or flight? Surviving the online news jungle

Here follows four interesting pieces on the past, present and future of news.

Last week in the Wired blogs, Betsy Schiffman suggested that if Google really wants to get a handle on the news market, they should gobble up The Associated Press, rather than attempt a much speculated acquisition of The New York Times.

Or that if they don’t buy AP, they should at least hide in the bushes while it demutualises, before ganging up with other big online beasts (AOL, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft) and remutualise under new management.

Never mind that AP itself relies on the traditional mainstream media for much of what it sends out into hyperspace, providing content devoured by search engines and social news aggregators, and keeping them fat with online traffic.

So what is the point of AP, and why is it worth saving? Here’s a snippet from it’s About page:

AP’s mission is to be the essential global news network, providing distinctive news services of the highest quality, reliability and objectivity with reports that are accurate, balanced and informed.

This all seems rather quaint in the context of the ‘death of objectivity‘.

Nonetheless, two questions arise:

  • How might we expect the likes of Google to manage our news going forward?
  • What interest do Internet companies have in pursuing ‘objectivity’ anyway (I prefer ‘even-handedness’)?

Well, in partial answer to the first question, a piece in The New York Times (of all places!) from Tuesday would suggest: not very well.

Google News is, it is argued, a traffic generator for Google search rather than a growth-generating asset in its own right.

It’s traffic growth lags way behind Yahoo News, and six other news sources in the States, while experts in the field have remarked on how little innovation has been undertaken on the service by comparison with competitors and other Google products.

Indeed I can remember pondering some time back why, while MSN Live news was out pursuing local news – Still US-only I’m afraid – the far longer-in-the-tooth Google News was still padding around in its comfortable den.

Returning to the second question, while Google News remains one of the few online news engines which exclusively uses algorithms to determine relevancy, any attempt at even-handedness (which requires editorial – human – intervention) is in direct conflict with corporate strategy.

Meanwhile, over in the mangroves of online news where readers decide what is newsworthy and what isn’t, there’s an interesting piece by social media guru Muhammad Saleem.

There is, it seems, an uneasy relationship between some search engines and social news sites like Digg and StumbleUpon, because of the high relevancy ranking garnered by those news items which have been ‘artificially’ boosted in the short-term, via big-hitters in the social news.

This piece suggests that social news sites develop their own social news search, or work in harmony rather than antagonism with search companies, to maintain the “uniquely democratic characteristic” of Google’s PageRank (and hence the longevity of news), while toning down the short term agenda pushed on social news sites which puts the cat amongst the pigeons.

So who are these wolves in sheep’s’ clothing from whom social news needs protecting?

Is that the Daily Mail skulking around in the shadows?

The hunter soon becomes the hunted in the jungle of online news…

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