After weeks of reporting, a journalist breaks a story. Moments after it goes online, another media organization posts an imitative article recycling the scoop that often grabs as much web traffic as the original.
Publishers have complained about this dynamic for years, ever since the explosion in digital news obliterated the daylong exclusive enjoyed in the print era. On Thursday, Alphabet Inc.'s Google said it had made changes to its search algorithm to advantage “original reporting” that would be reinforced by changes in search guidelines.
In a blog post, Richard Gingras, Google’s vice-president of news, said the changes to the company’s search guidelines would help it to “better recognize original reporting” and make it more visible on the internet.
Google and other major tech platforms have lately come under scrutiny – and federal antitrust investigations – in part because of their influence over the digital news industry. Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. reap most of the available online advertising revenue.
The News Media Alliance, a trade group, has been critical of the tech companies and has lobbied lawmakers for a limited antitrust exemption that would enable outlets to bargain collectively with the platforms.
In turn, several platforms have signalled a willingness to work with publishers. Facebook has pitched an initiative to license articles from major publishers and display them in a “News” tab. The Apple News app has made deals with some media companies to highlight their articles and split revenue.
Google seemed to acknowledge with Thursday’s changes that publications that dig up new information could use some help from the platforms.
“Some stories can also be both critically important in the impact they can have on our world and difficult to put together, requiring reporters to engage in deep investigative efforts to dig up facts and sources,” Mr. Gingras said in the post. “These are among the reasons why we aim to support these industry efforts.”
The guidelines from Google would also elevate outlets known for a history of accurate reporting, considering metrics such as how many journalism awards a publication has won.
The three examples of hard-news articles Mr. Gingras noted in his post were published by large outlets: the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, The Washington Post and The New York Times. It was unclear what the algorithm change would mean for publications in small and mid-size cities that have struggled in recent years while trying to transition from print to digital.