Big Data

Google News at 10: How the algorithm won over the news industry

Paul Sakuma/AP

In April of 2010, Eric Schmidt delivered the keynote address at the conference of the American Society of News Editors in Washington, D.C. During the talk, the then-CEO of Google went out of his way to articulate -- and then reiterate -- his conviction that "the survival of high-quality journalism" was "essential to the functioning of modern democracy."

This was a strange thing. This was the leader of the most powerful company in the world, earnestly informing a roomful of professionals that he would prefer their profession not die. And yet the speech itself -- I attended it -- felt oddly appropriate in its strangeness. Particularly in light of surrounding events, which would find Bob Woodward accusing Google News of killing newspapers. And Les Hinton, then the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, referring to Google's aggregation service as a "digital vampire." Which would mesh well, of course, with the similarly vampiric accusations that would come from Hinton's boss, Rupert Murdoch -- accusations addressed not just toward Google News, but toward Google as a media platform. A platform that was, Murdoch declared in January 2012, the "piracy leader."

What a difference nine months make. Earlier this week, Murdoch's 20th Century Fox got into business, officially, with Captain Google, cutting a deal to sell and rent the studio's movies and TV shows through YouTube and Google Play. It's hard not to see Murdoch's grudging acceptance of Google as symbolic of a broader transition: producers' own grudging acceptance of a media environment in which they are no longer the primary distributors of their own work. This week's Pax Murdochiana suggests an ecosystem that will find producers and amplifiers working collaboratively, rather than competitively. And working, intentionally or not, toward the broad goal that Schmidt expressed two years ago: "the survival of high-quality journalism." 

"100,000 Business Opportunities" 

There is, on the one hand, an incredibly simple explanation for the shift in news organizations' attitude toward Google: clicks. Google News was founded 10 years ago -- September 22, 2002 -- and has since functioned not merely as an aggregator of news, but also as a source of traffic to news sites. Google News, its executives tell me, now "algorithmically harvests" articles from more than 50,000 news sources across 72 editions and 30 languages. And Google News-powered results, Google says, are viewed by about 1 billion unique users a week. (Yep, that's billion with a b.) Which translates, for news outlets overall, to more than 4 billion clicks each month: 1 billion from Google News itself and an additional 3 billion from web search. 

As a Google representative put it, "That's about 100,000 business opportunities we provide publishers every minute."

Read more at The Atlantic.

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