Google: Real-time search won't kill journalism

Google just announced that it’s adding real-time news and updates to its search results, which prompted some of the journalists at the Mountain View, Calif., press event to wonder, “What does that mean for us?” Specifically, one reporter asked whether these real-time results will “kill journalism,” presumably because news updates written by folks on Twitter who aren’t professional journalists are getting even more prominence.

“Journalism has its role and always will have its role,” responded Amit Singhal, the Google Fellow who demonstrated the new technology.

Both Singhal and Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search product and user experience, said the point of real-time search is to “empower” users and help them find “the information that they need now. Meyer also argued with the reporter’s second question, which involved whether Google is becoming the most powerful organization in the world, because of all the knowledge it controls.

“We don’t [have the information],” Mayer said. “The web has the information.”

A related question came up later: Will Google’s real-time search algorithms include any way to find the truth? As many critics have pointed out, misinformation and hoaxes can spread quickly on Twitter. (To use the first example demonstrated today, if you search for “Obama,” you’ll see tweets that are factually wrong, and others that have a clear political bias.) During his presentation, Singhal noted that Google developed a new “language model” to distinguish tweets with original content from those that were just re-posted by bots; but beyond that, isn’t there a risk of misinformation drowning out the truth if there’s not a good way to distinguish between the two?

“Right now, a straightforward answer to your question is, we emphasize quality and relevance, and that often brings the truth out,” Singhal said.

Another aspect of the journalism question is Google’s move might affect News Corp’s reported negotiations to cut off Google and make its content available exclusively on Microsoft’s search engine Bing. After all, Mayer said that one of the most important features of real-time search is comprehensiveness, and while she wouldn’t talk about the deals Google made with sites like Facebook and Twitter, she implied that these kinds of partnerships are necessary — Google can’t just pull real-time results from whatever site it wants.

Google also has a deal with News Corp.-owned MySpace, but News Corp is probably making a distinction between users’ status updates (which it has no problem sharing) and news content that it pays journalists to write. I could imagine, then, that this desire for comprehensive real-time results might make Google more inclined to strike a search deal that News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch is happy with. Conversely, if News Corp publications aren’t included in these real-time results, it might make those newspapers seem even more out-of-touch and disconnected from the web.


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