Cabaero: Original reporting

IN THE latest twist in this love-hate relationship between Google and news publishers, the search engine giant announced last week it will prioritize original content in its search results.

Richard Gingras, Google vice president for news, announced on Sept. 12, 2019: “Recently, we’ve made ranking updates and published changes to our search rater guidelines to help us better recognize original reporting, surface it more prominently in Search and ensure it stays there longer. This means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all, and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen.”

This Google innovation is timely as publishers push for regulation on content aggregators who use a news organization’s content to re-purpose into a newsletter or online listing for their own commercial benefit. Publishers have said Google does not distinguish between those who produce content and internet scavengers who devour the content of others.

This Cebu Press Freedom Week, the Cebu media discuss industry concerns, including how to protect content and generate new revenue online. Google search is a major traffic source for news websites. Media organizations get revenue from Google ads on their sites.

News organizations like SunStar spend millions of pesos to produce the news and distribute it while aggregators pick up today’s news, copy, then earn from advertising clicks on their blogs or websites. Aggregators use optimization tricks to land at the top of search results and earn advertising revenue.

These aggregators should at least get permission from the content source. They earn from the content they copied, so it follows that they get permission or give a share of the revenue to media organizations that devoted resources to report the news.

But Google has to define what is original reporting. It said: “There is no absolute definition of original reporting, nor is there an absolute standard for establishing how original a given article is. It can mean different things to different newsrooms and publishers at different times, so our efforts will constantly evolve as we work to understand the life cycle of a story.”

That ambivalence could hurt small media publishers such as community newspapers that do original reporting but have smaller audiences than bigger, Manila-based outfits.

Will Google raters and algorithm give prominence to a Manila newspaper’s report over original reporting by a community newspaper for the same news event?

Google has to clarify its definition of original reporting and make sure the decision to prioritize original content will benefit those who do the actual journalism work, produce “the most authoritative reporting,” as it said, regardless of newsroom size and reach.

The internet is supposed to level the playing field by providing equal access to opportunities for both national and local media. This Google innovation could “un-level” that field and remove whatever benefits small media organizations are getting from Google.

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