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If you want to get a different perspective on my journey, try this blog from Zac. A friend I'm travelling with. zacstravelcolours.wordpress.com

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Why Google News is the best news site on the web.

Editorial bias. How often do we hear this accusation? Whether thrown about carelessly by rival news organisations (see this Media Watch example) or delivered with some merit, it's a nasty concept to deal with.

Recently we’ve seen this issue come to a head with some Labor politicians claiming certain publications are biased in their coverage of climate change. Now this is obviously motivated by more than just a desire for the public to be informed but it can definitely be argued they have a point.

The fact is, as I mentioned in my last post, when we read the newspaper, watch TV, or listen to the news, someone has decided what we should watch. Even on the websites of news giants like CNN and the BBC, one or many people, all with their own personal biases, is controlling what you can read.

Now obviously this will be the case with whatever you read. Every single word ever written is influenced in some way or another by the biases, whether explicit or subconscious, their writer. But what Google News does is give the reader more choice, whilst also providing the reader with an effective way to distil almost infinite amounts of new content into a manageable content package.

It does this with a modified version of its search algorithm, thus removing human bias from the news delivery process as much as possible. Google does a pretty good job of explaining the philosophy behind Google News here and a great explanation of the search algorithm can be found here.

What makes Google News stand out from news organisations' websites is variety and personalisation. The picture below shows just a couple of the great features the website offers.

The ability to view 'multiple sources' of a story at once is very useful when trying to find the whole story and even when searching for new angles. The service aggregates articles which it believes are similar and when they are displayed, you have the option to click on any of the top few article links. Alternatively, you can select "All __ News Articles" and browse to the version you want.

The personalisation box in the graphic points to three ways an individual user can customise the page to their needs. The arrow on the left points to the "Recommended" section where (provided the user is logged in with their Google account) they can see articles which Google thinks will appeal to them. It uses a variety of factors such as news history and web searches to calculate this.

The middle arrow points to an option to increase or decrease the amount of stories shown for each section (Top Stories, Australian, Technology etc.). Finally, the arrow on the right points to the News Search box. From here the user can enter any term they like in order to keep up with news relating to that subject. From there they can add it as a permanent section on their news page or even create an alert so they are emailed when new relevant articles are found. The potential for this in terms of news gathering and keeping across a breaking story is huge. In an article on the Walkley Foundation website, Claire Wardle talks about her experience with the New Zealand earthquakes, where she found this tool invaluable.

For everything from casual news browsing to intense research, Google News is a great tool for journalists.

As you can tell, I'm a bit of a fan. So just to keep things interesting....

Coming next week: The problem with Google News

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