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Google News gets a new human touch, launching publisher-curated Editors’ Picks as a standing section

Human curation will now be a regular feature of Google’s news aggregator.

When Google News launched in 2002, it did so with some declarations: “This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors.” And: “No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page.”

That core approach — computerized curation, algorithmic authority, NoMo sapiens — has served Google News well in the nearly-a-decade it’s been around, providing users with the multifaceted view of human events that is the news site’s hallmark. (Not to mention a reach that, Google claims, sends over 1 billion clicks a month to news publishers worldwide.)

But the thing about humans is that, occasionally, they’re helpful to have around. Especially when it comes to the increasingly difficult task that is keeping track of the world as it twists and turns. Which is why, starting today, Google News is introducing a new section to its U.S. edition: Editors’ Picks, a display of original content that journalists (human ones!) have selected as editorial highlights from their publications.

The feature, which will live on the right-hand column of the Google News page, “is the latest addition to recent improvements we’ve made to the variety and presence of stories and multimedia on Google News,” software engineer Yogita Mehta notes in a blog post announcing the section. But “because Google News relies on algorithms, Editors’ Picks will always be just that — picks provided by publishers themselves, and not by Google.”

That’s a big deal, and only partially because of Google News’ traditional algo-centricism. Editors’ Picks is Spotlight-like in its ability to highlight “in-depth pieces of lasting value” — but it’s unique in that it defines value according to the judgment, and needs, of human editors. (If Editors’ Picks sounds familiar, that’s because it is: We actually wrote about it last June, when Google launched it as a temporary experiment. Google used the data it gathered from that experiment to develop Editors’ Picks into the standing section it’s becoming today.)

Now that it’s launching in a (more) permanent capacity, Editors’ Picks offers an opportunity for publishers to take their news judgment — not to mention the nice serendipity that judgment can offer to news consumers — and amp up its impact. Google has teamed up with news outlets both national and niche — nearly two dozen so far, among them Slate, National Journal, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ProPublica, BBC News, MSNBC.com, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Root, Politico, MarketWatch, and The Guardian — to display the content, five items at a time, that the outlets’ editors most want to be seen by Google News’ audience. That content can be enterprise stuff that could use an extra push within a given news cycle; entertaining stuff that might have the potential to go viral; or just, you know, good stuff — content that’s unique or surprising or simply important — that could benefit from more exposure on Google’s uber-trafficked platform. (Since Editors’ Picks works through a custom RSS feed, that content could also include features like slide shows, videos, or topic pages that Google News might not otherwise index.)

For Google, there’s a definite two-birds-one-section element to all that: In addition to providing users with more good content, Editors’ Picks might also pave the way for more effective partnerships with news publishers. While Google’s relationship with the news industry has been a rocky one, Editors’ Picks suggests that it could now be turning a corner — from passive collaboration to active, from algorithmic connection to something more intentional. And, yes, human. Editors’ Picks is yet another instance of Google News working directly with news organizations to test what can happen when humans and technology team up to tell stories. Plus, it’s kind of hard for publishers to complain about Google News stealing their content when they’re actively working with Google News to promote that content. (Speaking of, if you want your outlet featured in Editors’ Picks, check out Google News’ Help Center for more info.)

For publishers, Editors’ Picks is also a way to highlight brand identity within a platform that has tended to emphasize news stories over news institutions. On Google News’ main section (and on most of its right-column features, too), headlines are presented in big, blue hypertext while their sources are denoted in small, gray plaintext. From the UI perspective, that’s great: When you’re taking in the news, you generally care way more about the headlines than about the outlets that produced them. But Editors’ Picks marks a shift: It allows users to browse a set of publisher feeds via side-to-side navigation arrows that are located smack next to the publishers’ logos. While the feeds presented are determined by a variety of factors, including personalization preferences…the fact that they’re there in the first place allows Google News users to explore news content according to news outlet. It emphasizes the news brand as much as the news story.

It takes the notion of serendipity, in other words, and applies it to news organizations themselves.

                                   
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Jake Batsell    April 15, 2014
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  • http://twitter.com/yelvington Steve Yelvington

    Of course, Google’s news algorithm always was an automated harvesting and distillation of the editorial judgment practiced by the staff of the sites it indexes.

  • http://twitter.com/yelvington Steve Yelvington

    Of course, Google’s news algorithm always was an automated harvesting and distillation of the editorial judgment practiced by the staff of the sites it indexes.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Megan Garber

    That’s a great point. But I’d say that an algorithm that distills collective editorial judgment is still quite different from a feature that displays individual judgment, filter-free.

  • Anonymous

    “BBC News, MSNBC.com, Reuters..”  Etc.  

    Given this over-representation of Lefty news sources in its human-curated articles, and given the tenor of Google employees’ political contributions, we know that this is a company not only populated with left-wing views, but willing to act on those views both inside & outside of its business.

  • http://twitter.com/Chanders Chanders

    Also of course, algorithms are Soylent Green (+): they’re people! They’re also something else. (the plus is the something else they are).

    You might say that the enslaved meat-sacks curating part of Google’s news sections (thanks Ed Young!) are unique insofar as there are fewer something-elses in the way.

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  • http://www.tolltrigger.com Steve Staloch

    Interesting, but another example of how the industry’s unique and proprietary content is being aggregated for the purpose of monetizing Google search results – for Google’s benefit. With the value of media mastheads that are not on the national radar screen rapidly diminishing, it’s time we allowed the marketplace of readers to decide the monetary value of the individual pieces of content we produce, and not belly up to the bars of the content combines or park them behind gimmicky paywalls that severely restrict content valuation derived from viral interest.

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  • Mike Hardaker

    Google News still wont accept the Mountain Weekly News into the rotation http://mtnweekly.com I have even tried to re-apply as a blog with no luck.  So I wonder who at Google decides what really is “news” as half of our stories are just as strong in seo juice for PR1

  • Ted M

    Can you? Or did other publications decline their call for human curated articles? You may have a point, but you may not. 

  • Ted M

    Can you? Or did other publications decline their call for human curated articles? You may have a point, but you may not. 

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  • http://twitter.com/jensmccabe Jen S. McCabe

    Curated health. Uh huh. It’s coming! :) cc@busterbenson @theculprit 

  • http://www.handbagonsaleshop.com/ Burberry Sac

     You made fantastic nice points here. I performed a search on the issue and discovered almost all peoples will agree with your blog.

  • edman2

    The Left wing Slant in google news headlines must be the new hires are from Obama Land