This has Dan Frommer, currently an indie journalist but formerly Business Insider co-founder, steamed.
According to Romenesko, Frommer applied to have SplatF, his new indie site, included in the Google News index. That means that people searching “news” for certain keywords (undoubtedly tech keywords, given Frommer’s bent) would be able to find SplatF content along with Nick Bilton, TUAW.com, and more.
No such luck, Frommer says. Why? Because Google has a policy of not indexing any one-person news outlets. “Never mind solo shops practicing entrepreneurial journalism,” Frommer says. “Google wants news with overhead!”
Frommer (and we) understand why this policy is in place. Most one-person shops are not really news sites. Most are opinion blogs or even just “what my cat did today” blogs. Putting a Google employee in the position of arbiting which blog is “news” and which is “opinion” is probably not a road down which Google wants to go.
But, Frommer points out: Google does everything else algorithmically. Why can’t data determine what’s worthy of being called “news” and what isn’t?
The problem with that, as Frommer unintentionally points out, is that a lot of stuff on legacy news sites isn’t really news: “Like this ABC News story yesterday (linked last night from the Yahoo homepage) rewriting a scandalous MacRumors forum post in the format of a news article, but adding little value and not doing any work to confirm that it is actually true. (“The whole thing may have been a joke,” it admits at the end. Yet it’s news! because it’s from ABC.)” To write an algorithm that studies one-off blogs on a case-by-case basis to determine whether their reporting is “news” would also require that algorithm to be applied to legacy news outlets. And that would have a lot of people pretty upset. Google can’t just upset the status quo that quickly.
On the other hand, maybe writing an algorithm to determine what “news” is actually valuable is still a tough nut to crack. Google’s been in the “regular” search biz since its inception, and we still have people gaming the system.