Friday, September 04, 2009

What Role does Google Play in Editorial Decisions?

The blog at the Nieman Journalism Lab has two seemingly unrelated stories on its site today that I thought actually bring up an interesting question.

Today's top story centers around a directive by the New York Post not to credit bloggers or other sources who break stories first. In the case written about in the Neiman article, which is worth a complete read, the reporter, Alex Ginsberg, re-reported the work of a Brooklyn blogger who uncovered a major zoning violation in her neighborhood. (side note: Ezra Butler recently asked if citizen journalism is really working out. In this case the answer would be "yes.")

On the blog, Ginsberg wrote in a comment:

Post policy prevented me from crediting you in print. Allow me to do so now. You did a fantastic reporting job. All I had to do was follow your steps (and make a few extra phone calls).

I won’t discuss at length the policy of not crediting blogs (or anyone else). I’ll just briefly explain that as long as we can independently verify every bit of info, we don’t credit.

You will find that the Daily News observes the same policy, but the Times does not. (They often write an explanatory phrase like, ‘The investigation into Mr. Spitzer was first reported in the New York Post.’ That’s not a real one. I just made it up. Although I would note that another Times policy would prevent them from actually printing the name of your blog, presenting them with an unresolvable conflict between two inflexible rules.)

Looking forward to “amplifying” more of your good work in the future.

There is still a question as to whether this is Post policy or, as the Neiman article calls it, a "marketing goof."

Also on the Neiman blog is a piece about what it takes to get on Google News, as spelled out in a Google video. In the list of tips is this gem:
It can detect phrases like “the Los Angeles Times reported” in wire stories and promote the original L.A. Times piece among the many other versions of the story.
That just makes me wonder if the Post move is more defensive than anything. Not just fighting with the Daily News, but also trying to simply eliminate one thing that may put them at a disadvantage in the eyes of Google.

More importantly, is this an effort to make sure that bloggers don't move up the chain and become more respected news sources? Today, Google still makes a distinction between blogs and news, but does that distinction come down if a number of publications say "as first reported in the blog..."?


Peter Kohan said...

But what if the blog's mission is to actually do reporting, even investigative reporting? And would the online version of that newspaper even provide a link to the original blog piece doing the shoe leather reporting?

So, for example, let's say Talking Points Memo breaks a story on the U.S. Attorneys scandal. They won't credit TPM at all, even when, on the Internet TPM will be cross-linked across any number of political news blogs?

And, at what point does a "blog" become a respected "site" per se? Even for the NY post, a tabloid - would they credit TMZ or Perez Hilton?

There's also a second level of hypocrisy at work here. Does the NY Post, or other papers, do cross-linking or attributing to original reporting from other "legitimate" news sources, such as other newspapers or magazines? If so, then the only thing the policy is about is undermining bloggers' attempts to be legitimate reporters/sources of news.

Either way - the policy acts as a knee-jerk reaction to larger, industry-wide economic realities facing newspapers rather than any policy stemming out of journalistic ethics.

Chuck Tanowitz said...

There is some confusion as to the policy. The policy itself seems to indicate that it wouldn't credit ANY news organization, blog or traditional. Yet, later, a spokesperson says that they do credit when appropriate.

My guess is that they credit when they can't (or don't have the time/resource) to independently verify information.