Google News’ Revamp: Friend or Foe?

Matt Kneller

Managing Director, Qwoted

We’re fortunate to work with some of the country’s most talented reporters, dedicated to the truth and committed to covering finance from all angles. These talented individuals restore our faith in the unbiased media, despite existing in the era of #fakenews and clickbait.

Google too sees value in quality reporters and wants their voices to be heard. After pledging to spend $30 million on promoting journalism in March, the tech giant announced that it will revamp its news feature, creating a “For You” section, with five stories curated for the individual. These stories may include global headlines, local news and new developments from stories you’ve been following, and are curated by artificial intelligence (AI). From here, you can switch to the “Headlines” tab, which provides additional stories from around the world and allows viewers to dive deeper into topics you’re interested in.

AI-Powered Google News Curation

The case for AI is clear and the idea of an individually-curated selection of news headlines does indeed sound positive. The revamp also includes a new format called “Newscasts,” which uses natural language understanding  to package articles, videos and quotes on a given topic. This allows readers to get a breadth of sources on a particular story. And  Google News’ “Full Coverage” feature gives readers a side-by-side comparison of how different outlets are covering a story. It even includes an FAQ section with relevant tweets and fact-checks on each story.

Pretty impressive, right? Using AI to curate news is inevitable. Human curation is incredibly costly, and in many cases, dependent upon a news source’s relationship with a digital publisher. In the past, news companies would only partner with specific companies, such as Flipboard or Digg, to release stories from behind the paywall and thus be included in the curation. It’s likely Google won’t run into this issue given its clout and its promise to create a subscription service to better incentivize publishers.

The company also noted in an interview with CNNMoney that it won’t partner with all news organizations but instead draw content from “trusted news sources.” This is good news for quality journalists and established publications, but bad news for those who don’t trust the “fourth estate.”

Using AI to curate news also has its downfalls as it creates a news siloh that could prevent readers from looking outside their comfort zone. We call it the echo chamber. If you’re only reading stories on a given topic or only searching terms that themselves have a bias to them (i.e. gun violence vs. gun rights), you’re likely to get news coverage that reinforces your interests and views.

News With a Personal Touch

Human-curated sources, however, have another level of nuance and editorial vision. A modern classic, theSkimm is hugely popular, with more than 5 million subscribers. It’s simply a daily newsletter with the “most important” headlines, according to its creators, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg. The writing is conversational and easy to digest,  despite covering dense topics like health and foreign policy. Some Vesties argue it trivializes important news topics, but if it means those 5 million subscribers are accessing stories they might not otherwise, then overall it’s a good thing in our book.

Another good example is  The Daily Beast’s Cheat Sheet. It gives readers 150-200-word run-downs of big news stories from reputable sources alongside relevant tweets and images, all of which are determined by the company’s staff. The section’s traffic has grown 35 percent year-over-year and accounted for 10 percent of the site’s total traffic in 2016. We at Vested distribute the human-curated “Vested Suggested” on Monday afternoons (Tuesday mornings in the UK!). We also have a list of finance-specific curated newsletters and round-ups for new hires to follow.

Human or AI: Where Do We Stand?

Why? Why favor human-curated news over AI? Because there’s a massive disconnect between what consumers say they want, and what they actually want. Although we hear people say they want highly personalized news, at the end of the day, we believe consumers are secretly relieved by being told what’s important. After all, the prized news organizations whose reporters we have the pleasure of working with are the experts. It’s the reason why talking heads on cable news still exist, and night-time news talk shows like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight are so successful. There’s a level of context and competence when deciding what’s important for the public, determined by humans, for humans, that cannot easily be replaced by an algorithm.

Regardless, we’ll be eager to see how the Google News revamp plays out and whether users will be more inclined to consult curated news round-ups versus standardized ones. Stay tuned as we explore the app’s pros and cons and continue to keep covering the pulse of all things media.