On Wednesday, Google News product manager Krishna Bharat spoke to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism students about how Google News can help journalists to do what they do best: on-the-ground, original local reporting.
Bharat, who is also the Hearst New Media Professional in Residence at the school, first explained just how Google News ranks and clusters news on the Web: by popularity, by language, by keywords, and by their sources’ geographic location.
Then he spoke about how the journalism industry must change to keep up with the changes in how Americans find the news. With the rise of Google, of course, readers are much less likely to search by specific sources of news, or to log on to a particular news outlet’s homepage. Rather, they are increasingly thinking about news in the context of stories, or groups of subject areas of interest.
“In the long run, this is actually a good thing, because it allows news organizations to know they can focus on specific aspects of geography, or a specific topic, and they will get found for the right story,” Bharat said. “They don’t have to worry about marketing that particular source and expecting people that live far away will know to come to them.”
Bharat gave the example of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath: a local, fast-breaking story that brought audience from all over the world to the website of the The Times-Picayune. Curious news readers in Europe, for instance, wouldn’t know to type in Nola.com, and they don’t have to. They simply type “Hurricane Katrina” into the Google News search bar and, because Nola.com has been dubbed a “trusted” source by the GoogleBot algorithms, that site will pop up first on the list.
This is, Bharat said, the “the most efficient system.” Local news outlets can concentrate on covering the stories they can do best, while Google helps them find an audience. Likewise, he said, not every piece of news from around the world needs to be represented on each individual news website. This will help news outlets to break out of the echo chamber, and trying to cover everything that’s already been covered elsewhere.
“You need to go beyond what everybody knows, to discover what is truly interesting, and what nobody else has got,” Bharat said. He quoted Jeff Jarvis, director of the new media program at the Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, whose aphorism sums up this way of thinking: “Do your best, and link to the rest.” A small headshot of Jarvis on Bharat’s PowerPoint slide smiled down on the crowd.
“The Web was designed for innovation and cooperation,” said Bharat. “Journalists should think of themselves as part of the larger media conversation.”Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner