Starting this week, the search engine is experimenting with a mechanism to allow newsmakers to publish their comments to prevent from being misquoted.
Somewhere right now Jason Calcanis is laughing, or if he isn't, he should be.
Back in April, Calcanis, a blogger and entrepreneur known for co-founding Weblogs, Inc., famously (at least among obsessive watchers of the blogosphere) declined to be interviewed over the phone by Wired contributing editor Fred Vogelstein for fear of being misquoted.
Calcanis proposed an interview conducted via e-mail, so he'd have a record of his words. "Frankly, you need to adapt," Calcanis said in an e-mail exchange with Vogelstein. "Journalists have misquoted people for so long..."
It seems Google has been thinking along the same lines. Starting this week, Google News will post comments from people named in the articles it features.
"We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question," explain Google News programmers Dan Meredith and Andy Golding in a blog post. "Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as 'comments' so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report."
Google's stated reason for doing this is "to make the full spectrum of views and information on a story available to everyone," as the company states on its Web site. Yet nothing is gained if the subject of a story chimes in with something affirmative like, "Yes, that's what I said."
It's also hard to imagine how comments will enhance press releases, which are also included in Google News, given that those quoted in press releases are invariably supportive of the product, event or service mentioned.
But the ability to add comments to Google News stories could prove very useful for the sort of situation contemplated by Calcanis: journalists who misquote or misrepresent.
Aggrieved newsmakers can now protest shoddy or malicious reporting at the source, if Google News can be called that, rather than on some unknown blog.
Like the misquoted, Google stands to benefit too. Beyond the community-building value of unique user-generated content, Google gains a metric to measure news quality.
One way Google could make use of this data would be to punish online news publications that generate a significant number of complaints with a lower likelihood of prominent story placement on Google News.
There's one hitch, however. The addition of comments beside Google News links may add weight to claims that Google News violates publishers' copyrights. Though Google doesn't run ads in Google News, its use of aggregated links and associated comments to draw visitors may prompt news organizations to complain even louder about Google's flirtation with their words and pictures.
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