Google Says a Change in Its Algorithm Will Highlight ‘Original Reporting’


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, Google said that 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.

“This means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all,” Mr. Gingras wrote, “and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen.”

In a phone interview on Thursday, Mr. Gingras acknowledged that the shift was in Google’s own interest. “We do everything here with Google Search and Google News to continue to earn and retain the trust of our users,” he said.

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 and Amazon reap most of the available online advertising revenue.

The News Media Alliance, a trade group, has been sharply critical of the tech companies and has lobbied lawmakers for a limited antitrust exemption that would enable outlets to bargain collectively with the platforms.

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In turn, several platforms have signaled 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, including Condé Nast, 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 like how many journalism awards a publication has won.

Several tech platforms, including the Google-owned YouTube, have been criticized for seeming to promote sensational content with no basis in fact. Soon after the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for instance, the No. 1 trending video on YouTube tapped into false theories that the survivors of the shooting were so-called “crisis actors.”

That kind of inflammatory content may attract views in the short run while damaging the reputation of any company that makes it widely available.

The three examples of hard-news articles Mr. Gingras noted in his post were published by large outlets: the Süddeutsche 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 midsize cities that have struggled in recent years while trying to transition from print to digital. Google, Mr. Gingras said, is putting “increased effort into, How do we do right by local outlets?” He cited reporting on natural disasters as the type of local coverage that could benefit from the changes.

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