You may have seen a blog post making its way around Twitter today: Lance Knobel, publisher of the respected local news site Berkeleyside (and past Lab contributor), noting the fact that Google News had suddenly stopped indexing Berkleyside articles. Headlined “Local news: we’re at Google’s mercy,” the post observed that Google News had stopped indexing Berkeleyside’s stories last Saturday.
Knobel wasn’t the only one who’d noticed an indexing problem. Over at Google’s troubleshooting forum for Google News publishers, complaints like nextgeneric‘s (“Google News refuses to tell me what I can do to get picked up again“) and jwuerfel‘s (“Up Articles not posting now“) were common, particularly over the last few days. Some speculated that their articles weren’t showing up in Google News because, in one of its periodic reviews of its news sites, Google had purged them from its database. As the speculation moved from the discussion board to Twitter, some simply expressed indignation at Berkleyside’s fall from Google grace. As Dan Gillmor put it: “Google News de-indexes local Berkeley site (founders include several former pro journalists), and no one knows why.”
Well, now we know why. A Google representative gave us the short — and, relative to the conspiracy theories, boring — answer: Not a purge, just a bug. Yes, Google News had indeed stopped indexing some local sites, but it was a glitch in the system, not a conscious choice. As Google’s Jeannie Hornung told me in an email:
Google News experienced technical difficulties that may have prevented the indexing of recent articles from some news sources. We believe all issues have been resolved. We apologize to our users and the sites affected.
So, case closed. It’s interesting to note, though, the passion with which people reacted to the notional axing of Berkleyside. (On Twitter alone, Knobel’s post got attention from the likes of David Carr, Felix Salmon, and Dave Winer.) More to the point, it’s understandable: Local news publishers often have odds, financial and otherwise, stacked against them. For many, a presence on Google News is a valuable — even invaluable — way for their work to get exposure and traction. (Many of them are competing, after all, with Patch sites, which have AOL’s mighty infrastructure to back them up.)
“Fortunately,” Knobel noted in his post, “there are many ways for people to find their way to Berkeleyside — the Chronicle is a firehose for traffic, Google search still indexes us, Twitter is wonderful, a nice number of people use our iPhone app, and we have a loyal following. But we’re a news site, damn it, and we want and expect to be indexed as such.”