“My kids get all their news from Google News,” a friend of mine said the other day, when we were discussing which print papers we still buy and read.
Her comment got me thinking about gatekeepers. Yesterday’s post was about the role of the traditional newspaper as a gatekeeper. Today’s post is about the gatekeepers of Google News. I count five. Am I right?
Envision Google News as a funnel. Soaring above it are all of the pieces of digital content generated by every news source in the world. Let’s call it the news bubble.
Who decides which stories in the news bubble are seen by the viewer at the bottom of the Google News funnel?
Gatekeeper 1, the newspaper, publish or not: Only stories pursued and published are in the news bubble. In that sense, the local daily still remains a gatekeeper. Only the story that the paper deems worthy reaches its website.
Gatekeeper 2, the newspaper, participate or not: Each news source decides whether to participate in Google News. Those that do allow all or part of their content to enter the Google News funnel.
Gatekeeper 3, Google staff, include or not: Google folks decide what news sources the service will accept (see Info for news publishers).
Gatekeeper 4, Google computers, display order: Unlike a print newspaper, Google has an unlimited news hole. It can display all the links to content to which it has a path, which is far too much news for a viewer to comprehend. Google computers decide the order in which the links are to be displayed:
“The results you see in Google News, except as noted, are selected by computer algorithms that determine which results are displayed and in what order.” —How Google News results are selected
If one accepts the logic that the articles displayed most prominently are more likely to be viewed, then the display order algorithm becomes, in effect, a gatekeeper.
Gatekeeper 5 (optional), Google computers, personalization: Busy readers, faced with such a plethora of choices, may choose to limit their view to their topics of interest and preferred sources (see Personalize your news settings).
Although it’s the viewer who decides to use the personalize option, once in use, the option is run by an algorithm, which, in effect, is acting as a gatekeeper.
Finally, the viewer clicks on a link of interest and ends up back at the daily newspaper website that allowed its story to enter the Google News funnel.