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Perspective: Who needs editors anyway?

Casting an eye on the hyperventilating triggered by the debut of Google's automated news service, CNET News.com's Larry Dignan says robotic news may not be as terrible as the naysayers claim.

The media navel-gazing over Google's News is getting to be a bit much.

Ever since the Google News site launched last month, some media types have worked up a sweat over whether the robot-generated news page means the end of editors. Who could imagine that you don't need an editor to select the top stories of the moment? "No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page," boasts Google.

In media circles, that boast is pure heresy. It's just not right, editors exclaim. "Where's the news judgment?" some of them wonder.

Puhleeze.

I'd argue that the Google News page has better news judgment than most. It's certainly more interesting, drawn from 4,000 sources or so.

Here's why: On Yahoo, America Online and other news aggregation hubs, the stories you read largely depend on wheeling and dealing. Yahoo either pays for a wire feed or gets paid by news providers for the privilege of being on the portal. Ditto for AOL and any other news site.

That's not news judgment; it's a business deal. News judgment these days more often than not equals content partnerships and wire subscriptions. Bottom line: Your selection is limited.

And that means you don't get news from a little daily newspaper in Louisiana at the usual--increasingly sterile--news sites.

Call me crazy, but I'll take a robot flinging me to news sources I've never heard of, anytime.
Mainstream media sites will give you their "proprietary" content, which is still valuable, but Google News can be one helluva (albeit buggy for now) supplement.

Call me crazy, but I'll take a robot flinging me to news sources I've never heard of, anytime. Do I want to read Reuters' take on Tropical Storm Isadore or the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, which I never heard of before Google? (It's in Tennessee, by the way.)

Google News also tends to be more global, a trait that can be sorely lacking elsewhere. On one visit, the two top stories were from the Jerusalem Post and the BBC. I reloaded a few minutes later, and the lead article was a story from Saudi Arabia's English daily Arab News. The Ithaca Journal also got a plug. Simply put, Google combines mainstream media and the Utne Reader all in one place.

With its rather addictive format, Google's news search may even return the concept of objectivity to the media. Dirty little secret: Every media outlet has an angle or bias, even if they are loath to admit it. Fox News' motto should be "Fair and Balanced (because the rest of the media is on the left)." There's nothing wrong with having a point of view; just disclose it.

Enter Google. Politically, I can get The Washington Post (left) and The Washington Times (right). With Google News, I may even drop reading The Wall Street Journal's editorial page alongside that of The New York Times, to extract the truth in the middle.

And, rest assured, Google thinks it may be onto something with this objectivity stuff. "While the sources of the news vary in perspective and editorial approach, their selection for inclusion is done without regard to political viewpoint or ideology," says Google on its explainer page. "While this may lead to some occasionally unusual and contradictory groupings, it is exactly this variety that makes Google News a valuable source of information."

The Google News naysayers claim that the company can't be making money--but you never know, considering that the overhead is zippo.
So pick a topic and click enough and you may actually find the truth somewhere. Google News also works well when tracking down NFL injury reports (a must-have in fantasy football) from local papers around the country.

Tell me where else I can get something like that?

The Google News naysayers claim that the company can't be making money--but you never know, considering that the overhead is zippo.

And it's really hard to understand their worry, considering Google will drive traffic to news sites that didn't get the attention (or potential ad revenue) before. Google News is just a tool to send folks to proprietary content.

In the end, robotic news may be a win for all involved.