In an announcement made earlier this month, Google reported that the latest update to its search engine algorithm is intended to increase the relevance of original reporting.

Media outlets have frequently accused Google of costing them online traffic, and contributing toward a decline in their industry, with the search engine tending to show only the latest and most comprehensive versions of a story, which tend to be follow-up pieces by other outlets, latching onto the original story.

This means that outlets who simply update and repost news get more exposure than the site that posted the original content.

Recognising Original Reporting

In a recent blog post, Google VP of News, Richard Gingras, announced “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.”

The problem of course, is how to define original reporting, and what the implications are, both for the user, and the search engine.

Google has given instructions to the 10,000+ “search raters” who help train the algorithm, who will also determine the “reputation” of the various publishers for inclusion in the consideration of which page to rank. Apparently, outlets that have won Pulitzer Prizes for investigative journalism in the past will be given a higher weighting in the results.

Another problem is that original, in-depth reporting, which usually has a bigger-picture view than breaking news stories do, take time. They’re not breaking news, and they usually only appear well after the original story is broken. Yet those should meet the criteria of original reporting far more than the initial 3 or 4 paragraph lead of a breaking story.

Challenging Tasks

Well intentioned (or response to regulatory concerns) as this may be, it may result in the exacerbation of an already frenetic news cycle. If the push for “original” content is a push for “the first” content, then publishing the story may be more important than, for example, fact checking it.

In the blog post, Gingras said, “We instruct raters to use the highest rating for original news reporting that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it. Original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort.”

There may be some competing priorities in there. Either way, we can guarantee you that somebody is going to be unhappy with the outcome.