Still, some in the news media are concerned that Google’s and Facebook’s efforts may actually prove to have less of a positive impact than the companies envision; and may even be detrimental.
“If they want to have quality content for their users, which they say they want to have, they’re going to have to come up with a more broadly sustainable business model for publishers than handing out candy every once in a while,” said David Chavern of the US-based News Media Alliance trade group, which represents 2000 news organisations and has been critical of tech companies.
The current algorithms punish investments and promote copying.
Much of the way news currently surfaces is due to algorithms, which have been trained to identify important news. But some signals that a story might be important — like lots of people sharing it or clicking on it — don’t necessarily mean it’s real news. And the systems can also be tricked.
Critics have lambasted Google and Facebook for the role their platforms played in amplifying a Russian disinformation campaign around the 2016 US presidential election, saying the companies were slow to identify the foreign interference and didn’t do enough to point users towards quality journalism.
At the same time, politicians including President Donald Trump have accused Google, Facebook and other major tech companies of anti-conservative bias in the way the platforms surface news.
With the new changes, companies appear to be realising that humans may need to play a bigger role in helping identify quality news.
Google says its has instructed its human raters to prioritise news reports that display a high degree of skill, time and effort. To evaluate trustworthiness, raters are told that “prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, or a history of high-quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”.
It’s not clear how that will play out, particularly with local publications, which rarely have the resources to compete in major journalism contests but are often the only professional news source in a given area.
In response to questions about Facebook’s approach to news, a spokesperson referenced an internal memo about News Tab obtained by The Information, which stated that editors “will seek to promote the media outlet that first reported a particular news story, and additionally prioritise stories broken by local news outlets”. Should the story be covered nationally or internationally, the human editors will then make subsequent decisions about the developments.
While Chavern of the News Media Alliance trade group lauded Google and Facebook’s $US300 million commitments, he said it’s possible that the new approaches could discourage outlets from attributing or hat-tipping each other’s reporting in an attempt to look the most “original” to the companies’ algorithms.
“The current algorithms punish investments and promote copying,” said Chavern. “That’s the baseline.”