Revealing The Sources Of Google News

American journalists and news reporters never reveal their sources. Google News follows suit, nowhere providing a list of the more than 4,500 English language news sources it claims to track. However, Henk van Ess, an investigative journalist from the Netherlands, offers a service that reveals the names of 1,256 news sources used by Google News in the US.

This service is called Google News Report. It fetches the headlines from Google News on a schedule, but only headlines on the home page are fetched.

These results are then ranked by a score that is determined by a combination of factors: appearance day and time, prominence on the Google News page, number of appearances, and others, all weighted using a custom algorithm. The algorithm is designed to estimate referrer traffic to the source.

Google News Report is a welcome addition to existing services like Newsknife, which has also designed ratings to help news site owners improve their performance in Google News.

But, Google News Report includes some features that aren’t available in Newsknife—like the top scoring stories in recent time periods. Plus, Google News Report has 16 international editions: USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, UK, France, Switzerland, French Canada, India, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

Google News aggregates headlines from more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide, so it is worth noting that Google News Report USA only found 1,256 of these news sources. This means that more than 72% of the more than 4,500 news sources have yet to see even one of their headlines make it to the Google News home page.

According to Google News Report USA, the top 25 news sources year to day as of May 30, 2007, were:

Top 25 Sources May 2007

rank source score average score total stories
1 New York Times 3,059.39 3.48 879
2 Washington Post 2,265.84 3.17 713
3 Houston Chronicle 1,999.22 2.46 810
4 Bloomberg 1,638.69 2.25 728
5 Los Angeles Times 1,542.88 3.12 494
6 Reuters 1,444.24 2.13 677
7 Forbes 1,374.88 2.59 529
8 Monsters and Critics.com 1,335.28 2.03 655
9 Guardian Unlimited 1,027.79 2.35 437
10 Voice of America 982.65 3.22 305
11 International Herald Tribune 855.94 2.33 367
12 Boston Globe 852.17 2.88 295
13 Chicago Tribune 835.09 3.30 253
14 BBC News 746.68 2.10 355
15 San Francisco Chronicle 731.02 2.90 252
16 CBS News 699.47 3.56 196
17 Times Online 697.04 2.66 262
18 Xinhua 676.24 2.56 264
19 Wall Street Journal 671.75 2.47 271
20 USA Today 629.96 1.84 341
21 FOX News 618.89 3.57 173
22 CNN 617.11 4.71 131
23 Seattle Post Intelligencer 615.90 2.35 262
24 MSNBC 595.15 2.01 295
25 ABC News 591.88 3.58 165

At first glance, it might look like the engineers who developed the Google News algorithm told it to “round up the usual suspects.” But, to a trained eye, some fairly surprising news sources can be found in the top 25.

For example, the Houston Chronicle ranks #3. Now, there’s a newspaper website that is punching way above its weight. And, who would have guessed that Playfuls.com, an online gaming portal, would rank #7, or that Monsters and Critics.com, which provides users with a broad source of entertainment news and reviews as well as coverage of world news, technology, sport and science, would rank #8?

Editor’s note: Google recently announced that it has removed Playfuls.com as a source.

There are other surprises in the list of top 25 news sources. Voice of America, the official external radio and television service of the United States federal government, ranks #14 and Xinhua, the official press agency of the government of the People’s Republic of China, ranks #18.

Under United States law (Section 501 of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948), the Voice of America is forbidden to broadcast directly to American citizens, although Americans can access the programs through streaming audio over the Internet. And, Reporters Without Borders has called Xinjua “the world’s biggest propaganda agency,” although its worldwide press freedom index ranking has improved in the past years.

On its website, Google News says, “We do things a little differently, with the goal of offering our readers… a wider variety of perspectives from which to choose.” So, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising to find the Voice of America and Xinjua are among its more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide. But ranked higher than Times Online, USA Today, MSNBC and CBS News!?!

Google News has been shifting the news media paradigm since it was introduced as a beta release in April 2002. The Project for Excellence in Journalism acknowledged this in its annual report, The State of the News Media 2007.

The report said “the transformation facing journalism is epochal, as momentous as the invention of television or the telegraph, perhaps on the order of the printing press itself.”

While the report argues that “traditional journalism is not, as some suggest, becoming irrelevant,” it admits that “journalists have reacted relatively slowly. They are only now beginning to re-imagine their role. Their companies failed to see ‘search’ as a kind of journalism. Their industry has spent comparatively little on R&D. They have been tentative about pressing for new economic models, and that has left them fearful and defensive.”

That’s why the Google News Report is a welcome addition to existing services like Newsknife. I think it would be good if more news sites start using these services to get more high-ranked listings than, say, the official press agency of the government of the People’s Republic of China.

The variety of perspectives in Google News won’t be narrowed, but they might be a little more “fair and balanced.” Then again, considering that “Fair and Balanced” is a trademarked slogan used by the American news broadcaster Fox News Channel, maybe finding a story from “the world’s biggest propaganda agency” in Google News isn’t so bad.

Greg Jarboe is a contributing writer to Search Engine Land, and the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization firm and public relations agency that specializes in news search, blog search, and social media relations.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Google: News | Search Engines: News Search Engines

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  • Burgo

    Wow… very surprised at some of those results to say the least. At the very least I would have expected BBC News to be in the top 10.

    (By the by, the links to the News sources give 404 errors)

  • http://blog.vortexdna.com Kaila Colbin

    Greg,
    It is interesting to see the list of news sources Google cites, but surely their rationale for not providing the list differs from the rationale behind journalists not revealing sources: after all, the information is readily available in non-aggregated form for entrepreneurs like van Ess to compile.

    Xinhua may be considered the world’s biggest propaganda agency, but as you point out America has its own propaganda challenges. The lesson that I take from your piece is a reinforced necessity to practice discernment in news consumption.

    In reality, isn’t that a necessity for any information? If we want to be self-accountable, participating members of society, doesn’t the responsibility lie with us as individuals to know the source and potential biases of any information we receive?

    I propose that, whether we’re dealing with legal advice, medical diagnoses, or news, we need to proactively engage with content—not just swallow it blind.

    Best regards,
    Kaila Colbin

  • http://www.seo-pr.com Greg Jarboe

    Kaila, I agree that readers need to be read all news sources with a degree of skepticism, even news sources that claim to be “fair and balanced.” But, Google News has removed some sources like Playfuls.com and Google News does not allow hate content. These are editorial decisions. Google News also labels each press release so readers know that it is from a one-sided news source. So, Google News doesn’t put the burden entirely on readers to filter the sources of news. Do you think Google News should drop the “press release” label from press releases or start adding a new “official press agency” label to selected news sources?

  • http://blog.vortexdna.com Kaila Colbin

    Hi Greg,

    I think we’re saying the same thing here. The thing about Google News is that it is not actually a news source in and of itself (that I know of — feel free to prove me wrong). It is a news compiler. Therefore, it is entirely relevant to indicate that what it has compiled is, for example, a press release. We the readers are then responsible for determining how much credence we give the release, or the item from Xinhua, or the Fox ‘news’ story.

    Anyway, hats off to van Ess for making the discerning reader’s job a bit easier. If we have already done the work of determining that we trust content from Google’s top sources, then we know it’s a good place to go to get the news in one place. If we see there’s a bias in the sources, we can take results from the page with the appropriate grain of salt.

    Where do you see the division line of responsibility falling?

    All the best,
    Kaila

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