CNET’s interview with Krishna Bharat, the engineering head behind Google News, suggests the search company is going to change its approach to so-called “content farms” and networks of sites like Demand Media or Associated Content:
Bharat implied that Google is working on a way to refine the signals it uses to rank news stories in a way that filters out the most egregious examples of news spam without branding certain companies as offenders because of certain stories. “What we are very sensitive to is user experience, but we don’t want to be anecdote driven, we want to be sensitive to statistically relevant feedback,” he said.
The battle to increase audiences is hardly a new challenge facing the media environment. Whether print readers, radio listeners or television viewers, it has generally been a case of the more the merrier.
In the world of online journalism, where there is instant access to page view and retweet counters, the ‘success’ of a story has perhaps come to be defined by these metrics. Howard Kurtz, columnist for the Washington Post, has an interesting post on the site this morning discussing the potential impact of this environment on the work of online journalists and the resulting balancing act between appealing to the search engine and maintaining a quality brand.
Naturally, those who grew up as analog reporters wonder: Is journalism becoming a popularity contest? Does this mean pieces about celebrity sex tapes will take precedence over corruption in Afghanistan? Why pay for expensive foreign bureaux if they’re not generating enough clicks?
Doesn’t all this amount to pandering?
Potentially, sure. But news organizations such as the Post and the Times have brands to protect. They can’t simply abandon serious news in favor of the latest wardrobe malfunction without alienating some of their longtime readers. What they gain in short-term hits would cost them in long-term reputation.
Emma Heald writes on the EditorsWebLog that where SEO content directly competes with news content there is “cause for concern”, both for news publishers and the wider issue of public knowledge.
But the challenge of ensuring online news search results are based on relevant and ‘quality’ sources should be one taken up by the news aggregators, rather than content farms, which have a place in the online arena, she adds.
Evidently, content farms cannot and should not be stopped from producing large volumes of content and it arguably makes a lot of sense to provide internet users with articles on topics which they are searching for. And not all the content is bad: some is written by experienced, conscientious journalists. Traditional news organisations should focus on improving their own SEO (though not at the expense of the content) and if it is to retain its position as a top news aggregator, maybe Google’s algorithm should become more discerning?
The article suggests that declines within the newspaper industry could be improved if intellectual property rights were to undergo “rethinking”.
Using aggregators like Google and others, I can access essentially in real time the lead paragraphs of almost any story from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or indeed any other major news service. Not surprisingly, traditional print media publications are dying, and not surprisingly their owners’ online dotcom alternatives are generating far too little revenue to pick up the slack; why pay for any content when the essence of everything is available immediately, and free, elsewhere.
The writers Eric Clemons and Nehal Madhani add that one solution could be to apply a waiting time on articles before they can be reposted online by external aggregators, unless it is only in commentary on the work.
A first suggestion would be to provide newspaper and other journalistic content special protection, so that no part of any story from any daily periodical could be reposted in an online aggregator, or used online for any use other than commentary on the article, for 24 hours; similarly, no part of any story from any weekly publication could be reposted in an online aggregator or for any use purpose other than commentary, for one week.
Revenue from those publications has been in decline for many years — well before Google and the internet existed. The biggest problem many of the bigger publications faced was taking on ridiculous debt loads. On top of that, most of them failed to provide value to their community, as competitors stepped in to serve those communities. That’s not about aggregators.
The overall message is that the future of digital news will lie in using advertising to “tell people what they should be doing” and capitalising on the movement of news searches to other platforms – namely mobile.
Once again, Schmidt promises newspapers a profitable place in Google’s future. “The only way the problem [of insufficient revenue for news gathering] is going to be solved is by increasing monetisation, and the only way I know of to increase monetisation is through targeted ads. That’s our business.” Newspapers have always answered questions that people were not aware they had to ask, and they simply have to continue doing this to fit in.
Google has again recruited from BBC staff as part of attempts to encourage online publishers to make more of the media giant’s news platform, this time hiring the broadcaster’s head of development and rights Madhav Chinnappa.
According to a report by paidContent:UK, the position is likely to centre on improving relations between Google News and newspaper publishers as many continue to question the value of the site to them – as demonstrated in a debate at the Frontline Club last week, attended by another former BBC recruit Peter Barron, who previously edited Newsnight but now heads up Google’s communications and PR department.
It’s a new post, and a sign Google is increasingly keen to dampen increasing scepticism, from some newspaper publishers, regarding its attitude to content, and instead come to amicable arrangements.
Debate raged at the Frontline Club last night as Google and news publishers came head-to-head for a panel discussion on the search engine and its impact on the industry.
The very title of the event “Google: Friend or foe of newspaper publishers”, part of the club’s monthly On the Media discussion series in association with the BBC College of Journalism, set the topic of early debate, as Peter Barron, former Newsnight editor and now head of PR for Google UK, sought to banish the idea of the company as an ‘enemy’. “Google is unequivocally a friend of the newspaper publishers. Our aim is to work with them,” he said.
Challenged about the ethics of “taking stories for nothing” through the Google News platform, he added that the service followed the free structure of online news.
We absolutely we do not steal content. News organisations put their content on the web for free everyday by their own free will and Google helps people find that content. We send clicks to the pages of news websites. We send a billion clicks a month to news websites globally. Once there, those clicks are a business opportunity for the businesses involved.
A business which he claims generates revenues of £5 billion worldwide. But the value of a browser who clicks through from Google is minimal, Matt Kelly, digital content director for Mirror Group Newspapers argued. In fact, he said, he’d rather not have them at all.
We need to worry a bit less about search engines and worry a bit more about our readers. We weren’t that impressed with the value of audience we got via search engines. They came across it via Google and buzzed off again, that’s Google’s audience. It’s not our audience. We can’t successfully leverage a disconnected audience.
He added that many news organisations moving online were “blinded” by the reach the internet and sites like Google enabled them to have.
I think they confused reach with audience, they confused numbers with engagement. It was a very alluring thing (…) So we pumped the market full of inventory and there was too much inventory for advertisers to supply. There’s not enough advertising in the world to fill all of the content that newspapers put out online. So what happens is the rate collapses. So suddenly this reach came back and bit the newspaper industry on the arse. So in all this great reach, the rate of revenue coming back from it is in terminal decline. What we would sell 4 or 5 years ago for £8 cpm now we’ll sell it for 80p cpm. This is not a sustainable business model. This is a product of the erosion of engagement that Google brought to news content.
Kelly later added that he would rather get one click-through from Twitter than 100 from Google, where someone has said “check this out” and recommended it. “I’m not interested in people who stumble and go, would rather not have them at all,” he said.
Earlier in his introduction, fellow panel member Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at the London Business School, had agreed that Google was “a good thing for consumers (…) Good thing for advertisers. Bad thing for media companies.”
He said the revenue model for Google focused on making money from advertising and not re-investing much of it into content. Without Google, he added, the world would be a better place for news organisations.
Who’s going to pay for the content? Google isn’t going to and why should they? Google helps people find content, however if you imagine a world in which Google didn’t exist and nothing else like it, that world would be better for news organisations (…) The amount of revenue per reader generated online is much less than what can be generated by a print reader.
Peter Barron responded to say that the problems for news organisations have been caused by the internet as a whole and that too often people “transpose” the internet and Google.
The internet changed the news pattern forever. Thats what has caused huge problems for the news industry. People often transpose the internet and Google. The newspaper industry has faced a huge disruption because of the internet and woke up to it a little bit late.
Wired and Press Gazette MediaMoney columnist Peter Kirwan, who was also on the panel, added that many online news publishers simply have their priorities “skewed”. If organisations could cut out the “astronomical” costs of printing, they could begin to think about becoming digital only, he added.
The rhetoric that surrounds the idea of the news media exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, in other words (…) the available CPMs (cost per thousand) available on the internet are so much lower than in print – well yes they are – but the cost of putting out newspapers is also astronomically high (…) Strip that out and those digital diamonds don’t look so small (…) News organisations who are currently print dominated could start to think about becoming digital only and I think the rhetoric is now getting slightly tired of exchanging print dollars for digital dimes, we need to move on from that a little bit because I think the possibility of a digital only existence is starting to open up.
Looking forward, audience members asked about the future of paywalls and whether news publishers would ever consider building a shared wall. This prompted another panel member, paidContent’s Robert Andrews to ask Barron if Google could say anything on rumours the company was developing a ‘Newspass’ micro-payments system, met with a “no comment” from Barron.
Kelly added that it was up to newspapers to map their own future, but for the Mirror Group, it was about ensuring an engaged audience, rather than being obsessed with traffic from “transient visitors”, which he called this “a sickness that has pervaded the industry”.
Lots of people used our content but didn’t care about it. We’re trying to get to position B, its free and they care about it but then one day we might get to position C which is that they care about it so much they might be willing to pay for it. I wish [the Times] had gone to position B first and see if they could have engaged the audience and care a bit less about SEO.
Journalism.co.uk’s podcast from the event can be found here. See video coverage of the event below:
A post on the editorsweblog.org is looking at the way semantic technology could transform online news searches.
The technology is explained as having the ability to change the internet “from a massive searchable text file into a queryable database”, where related media, or facts, are linked together across independent websites.
For newspapers, semantic technology improves reader engagement by linking together related articles. For readers, that means more context on each story and a more personalized experience. And for advertisers, it means better demographic data than ever before.
Watch the video below, courtesy of editorsweblog.org, for more information on ‘website rules’ being created to make semantic searches more efficient in the future.
I think people care about what other people are interested in, most importantly in their social circle (…) but beyond that the world at large. I think there is an influential, intellectual component to our audience that cares very much about getting the hard news of the day. I don’t think there is a risk of us personalising so much that we keep the hard news out the picture. We have an editorial responsibility not to do that.
Google News introduced a new recrawl feature this week, which allows the search engine to revisit news articles for changes – most frequently on the first day after Google finds them.
For readers, this feature is intended to reduce the number of outdated headlines and dead links you might find. And for publishers, rest assured that we’ll be back to find your latest stories and updates as soon as we can.