How Google can help save "journalism" now that AOL has botched its attempt

How Google can help save "journalism" now that AOL has botched its attempt

Summary: With its data, companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter could help identify which blog posts, news stories and even tweets are worthy of being labeled "journalism."


If any of you are following this AOL-TechCrunch drama in the tech blogosphere, well... sorry for you (and me). It's an ugly story that just keeps getting uglier. (I'll spare you the detailed recap and provide you with the link above instead.)

For some, this latest brouhaha may seem like just another chapter in the ongoing blogger vs. journalist debate. As a journalist, I see it as a turning point for journalism, a cleansing, if you will, that defines what is and isn't an appropriate conflict of interest for news outlets. But that's another post for another blog.

More to the point of this blog post, I see AOL's botched attempt at gaining any journalistic integrity as a manager of news sites as an opportunity for other non-journalism companies - notably, Google, Facebook and Twitter - to get their fingers into an advertising-driven industry without having to create original content.

As the dominant holders of the information about what we're looking for, what we're sharing and what we're talking about on the Internet, these companies have the ability to analyze the most trafficked sites on the Web and determine - dare I say it - their journalistic integrity.

Think about it. Google has search results, trending data, +1 clicks and, of course, its analytics product, while Facebook has its "likes" and "shares" and Twitter has it "retweets." They know which sites are getting the attention and the online love. They know how to track and monitor data.

I can envision it now: They could form a coalition, hire a bunch of real journalists - like with journalism degrees and real newsroom experience - and allow them to develop a ranking or rating system for at least the most widely read blogs, news sites and so on. Those sites would have special logos or be otherwise noted on social media or search results.

Of course, this shouldn't somehow imply that those don't rank highly are somehow less credible or not worthy of being showcased. There are plenty of amateur bloggers who don't gather news, break news or otherwise practice news reporting but who like to sound off about topics - and do so very well.

Case in point: This thought process of mine was sparked when I read a contributing post on Business Insider that was written by Aaron Holesgrove, who describes himself as an Australian based Web developer and the creator of He doesn't claim to be a journalist but that doesn't mean he can't offer a well-thought-out analysis of the situation and offer an educated idea on how to solve a bigger problem. He had an interesting idea about treating journalism as a utility where reporters were licensed or certified to practice journalism. Hmmm...

The point is that some bloggers, such as the folks at TechCrunch, including founder and editor (for now) Michael Arrington, have been saying for a long time that they do not consider themselves to be "journalists" and that what they offer is not journalism, but instead researched and educated thoughts and opinions about business and product developments in the world of technology - or anything else they feel like ranting about.

It's important to remember that "journalism" and "news" are two different things. Journalism is about fairness, accuracy, objectivity and responsible reporting, as well as values, standards and ethics. The news business is about taking relaying information to the masses - sometimes by practicing journalism, other times not. Regardless, while the news business has grown beyond TV stations, newspapers and even news sites and blogging networks, the need for quality journalism has not gone away.

As a side note, I am involved with a number of organizations committed to journalism and have noticed a upswing in Google's commitment to these groups by way of conference workshops and sponsorships. Google has an interest in journalism - and I hope that Google has an interest in taking some of that data to help identify those that practice responsible journalism.

It doesn't seem like that much of a stretch. And it certainly could help bring these ugly examples of conflict, hypocrisy, hissy fits and incompetence - which have plagued this AOL-TechCrunch story - to an end.

What do you think? Should Google, Facebook, Twitter and other non-news tech companies get involved with the efforts to preserve journalism standards? Or does it even matter to anyone anymore?

Related coverage: AOL terminates TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington; raises questions about strategy

Topics: Google, Browser, Social Enterprise

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  • Gone are the days

    This idea strikes me as an attempt to re-establish the "gatekeeper" function that journalists abused so badly in the past. I don't think people will ever again allow a relatively closed society of like-thinking elitists to filter what people are going to hear about.
    Robert Hahn
    • Exactly what I was thinking!

      If journalism stinks to high hell, it's because the so-called journalists have taken the whole idea of reporting and truthfulness and fairness, and turned it into a practice of "changing the world" instead of "reporting on the world". There is no true "journalism" in today's world, and using those so-called journalists to judge the "news", is like hiring a fox to guard the hen house.

      The best judges for news and information and commentary, are the people for whom the media writes. It's the consumer of news that should be the final arbiter about what is fair or not.

      Allow a journalist to make the decisions about fairness and how the news and/or reporter should be rated, and you'll end up with the complete opposite of the intentions, and we'll get an end product like an MSNBC, which is simple advocacy "journalism".
      • RE: How Google can help save

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  • RE: How Google can help save

    If certifying the news becomes an automated function, people will learn how to scam the algorithm. And if that keeps us skeptical of the news industry, maybe it's not a bad thing.
  • RE: How Google can help save

    AOL just doesn't seem to be able to do anything right. Everything they buy/merge/acquire seems to weaken their total product/image. Reminds me of walking throw a pasture and stepping into a cow patty. You step out of that one, take one step forward, look back and say "wow, that was messy but I'm ok now" only to look down and see that you sterpped into an even larger one with the other foot
  • RE: How Google can help save

    The Fourth Amendment protects the freedom of the press. It does not establish a class of professional "journalists". When the amendment was passed, conditions were like today - anyone could publish anything without any filters.
  • RE: How Google can help save

    Well, if they want to save journalists, they'll first have to save journalism, that is, newspapers. I'd suggest reviving the recently scrapped Google newspaper digitization project (<a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a>). Heck, let the publishers make a few bucks off the archives (maybe limiting them to Google Ads?) and perhaps they'd retain a few more reporters on staff. Imagine the reams and reams of click-ready content.
  • Sam, I've been working on a real solution for a while now,

    and it won't involve using Google or AOL or Twitter or Facebook or Yahoo or any content provider. All of them could be participants as users of my idea/application, but they wouldn't be allowed to control or judge or rate.

    And, my application wouldn't discriminate based on the credentials of the content provider, and "journalists" could be anyone that can provide content that is worthwhile for news/information consumers to read. The consumer/reader would be the final judges of the content. Even those with degrees in journalism can be consumers, so they can judge as consumers.

    Anyhow, it's complicated and it would take a book to explain the whole thing.

    Some other time.
  • RE: How Google can help save

    What good is journalism for when it's being abused by those who should practice it. Where was that "fairness, accuracy, objectivity and responsible reporting, as well as values, standards and ethics" when it came to reporting fairness, accuracy, objectivity etc. about the war in Iraq.

    This whole embedding campaign with the US forces was a scam. Censoring in other words, and all the major news companies jumped in. You got better responsible reporting from bloggers. And don't get me started on Fox News...

    In that regard traditional journalism just like newspapers might not necessarily be a thing of the past, but it's being displaced. I congrat TechCrunch (so far) for their approach: no patriarchs, no claim that this IS journalism, but informed opinions - make up your own mind about whether you agree or not.
    • You demonize FOX, yet, most of the media problems people speak

      about concern the majority of the media, which is mostly left-leaning.

      The reporting of the war was manipulated, and it was manipulated for all sides, so it wasn't a FOX idea or anyone else's idea. Most of what we get from government, especially from Washington is filtered and manipulated, and it's up to the people to get smart and knowledgeable on their own and to put on their spin-detectors on.

      Now, specifically, what was it that FOX did that makes their reporting any less credible or more useless than the competition?

      BTW, the mainstream media was, by design, taken over by liberals a long time ago. So, most of what you hear is purposely biased and filtered through that advocacy media.