What do you think about comments on Google News stories?

    by Mark Glaser
    August 9, 2007

    Google News announced it would start experimenting with a new feature that allows the sources in articles it aggregates to write comments, extending the smallish quotes that usually run with stories with more context and details. On the face, it sounds like a good idea, as anything that will provide more depth to journalism should be applauded. However, there’s been a bit of an uproar over Google trying to “own” these comments by putting them only on the Google News site and not on the sites where the articles come from. Google says it will verify that the people commenting were indeed mentioned or quoted in the article before allowing comments. What do you think of this idea? Is this a service to journalism, or is it another move by an online company to steal mindshare and traffic from traditional sources of journalism? What features of this would work and what wouldn’t work? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll run the best ones in the next Your Take Roundup.

    Tagged: comments google google news
    • I think this is a fabulous step forward. Newspaper reporters are often so rushed that errors creep in. In the interest of providing full and accurate reporting, the people mentioned in the article can offer corrections.

      When an article is unfair or imbalanced, then a countervailing point of view can be offered by people mentioned in the article.

      I see this feature increasing the accountability of reporters. If they continuously steer off the path, then their editors and the public will know it. This also levels the playing field, allowing people to explain when a quote was taken out of context.

      I say bravo to Google. You have empowered the little guy once again. The only people to be upset about this feature are old-school cigar chomping editors.

      “How dare they take away my power like that. How dare they!”

      George F. Will is going to be very upset about this, too. He’s going to be aghast — aghast — that people with untrained minds will be sharing their thoughts and opinions in this way — calling for an immediate summit on this at his favorite women-excluding social club.

    • I think it’s an interesting idea — a new intersection of article comments and newspaper letters to the editor or op-eds. But most people who comment will probably be national figures. Often (though certainly not always) stories that feature such people come from the Associated Press (or Reuters, or Bloomberg) and therefore appear in dozens of newspapers, making it worth the subjects’ time to respond in a national forum like this.

      Overall, that’s a good thing: It leaves room for mid- and smaller-market newspapers to start doing the same thing on a more local level, especially for town, county and statewide elections, feature story follow-ups, etc.

      Several in the blogosphere say they worry this will turn into a virtual “spin alley” and become essentially a heavy public relations element on otherwise ‘objective’ articles.

      We’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case.

    • I think this is terrific and important. I suspect that anyone who has ever been involved in news articles, in even the smallest way, will agree,

      The nature of the newspaper medium means that reporters and editors have absolute control. They set the context. They can decide on the slant of the article and they can be wrong or biased with almost no consequences.

      I have frequently felt that my quotes were used in ways that gave an unjustified “spin” to a story.

      Now, for the first time, people accessing these articles will have the opportunity to explain, refute, or elaborate on what they perceive as bias or inaccuracies.

      The “blogosphere” has suggested that a better service would be to allow discussion by anyone. In this case, I think that Google is doing something different: The point is not how to interpret an article (which would be a discussion) but to ensure that the starting point for this discussion is accurate.

      This is one more example of how the Internet changes the nature of journalism and how a newcomer looks at the world differently from the established papers.

    • It would be a different story if Google was going the way of Topix and trying to build a community platform on top of newspaper content, but Google’s approach seems more like trying to enhance content in a way that will bring more traffic to Google News. More traffic to Google news means more traffic to news web sites.

      If it were general, open comments, then I would be concerned that we would see less click-throughs on stories, but in this case if a source says “newspaper got it all wrong …” then that might actually encourage more peole to read the full story.

      If sources/subject participate, which seems like a big if, even for a news source as robust as Google’s.

      Topix is a much, much bigger concern. They’re building a community platform on top of newspaper content and not really giving anything back in return (referrer traffic from Topix is pretty much non-existent).

    • It seems like it would be far easier, automatic, and productive to add headlines from blogs that link to each story, using Google’s own Blogsearch.

      That way anyone is free to add a comment, standing on the identity and reputation of their own blog.

      If Google wants to use a human editor to tag and feature some of the blog responses as ‘From a source’ or ‘From the reporter,’ that might be a happy medium.

    • Phil:
      Exactly. Hence, journalism becomes a participatory conversation. Radical, indeed.

      Yet Google will be challenged here just as bloggers are challenged. Specifically, “comment spam” (affiliate marketers looking to either tarnish the publisher and/or distribute links that may lead to curious click$).

      Look to Google to simply require verifiable Comment Registration. Of course, this opens the door to introduce the entire suite of Google apps. It also allows Google to gather profile data on these rather “special” (newsworthy) individuals as part of the registration process… etc… etc… (let your mind wander!)

      Excellent point re: how this can be a benefit to the original news publisher… and I appreciate your sharing the insight.

    • i’d like to see Google go one step further and have a “Rebut” feature where members of the public can rebut any news article or editorial — either rebut in text or in rich media.

      because sometimes people have comments about articles, such as this nonsense published in the new york times.


      i composed the lyrics to this song and married them to a public domain melody, Whiskey in the Jar. i used Camtasia Studio, the screencasting program, to present the lyrics alongside the text of the article.

      i want to help people think more deeply about what was being said in this article — but i need google’s help for people to discover my commentary.

      wanna here a supreme irony? this new york times reporter writing this article on the digital divide does not have a publicly listed email address.

      i couldn’t even tell the reporter that i had a rebutting point of view.

      which is why i made this youtube video. http://youtube.com/watch?v=GHVbxsbECCM

    • I doubt that new sources (read: newspaper websites) would be worried about this if they had thought of this type of commenting before Google. I think this is just one more example of how newspapers are missing the boat when it comes to the Web and online features.

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