Just when you thought you had found a reliable source of news from all over the world, Google News shoots itself in the foot. Someone at the world’s best search engine has decided that press release feeds are acceptable news sources to be included in their news portal. So the RIAA or Monsanto, both organisations with obvious interests in current political debates, are considered news sources on par with, say, the BBC. The Register’s excellent article exposing this also makes an important point about Google’s claims that the selection and placement of stories on its news portal are “determined automatically by a computer program.”

No they weren’t. This isn’t some synthetic version of reality created entirely by robots. The selection and placement of stories were determined by a person, someone who thinks unedited press releases from lobbyists, special interest groups or corporations are “News”.</p> Exactly. As sociologists of news production have long pointed out, the inevitable decision of whom to consider a legitimate source of information has always been a primary source of bias in the news, even where there is a strong professional ideology of objectivity or party-political neutrality. The same, as this shows, is true at the meta-news level. The very fact that Google has a seperate search engine for “news” sources signals that some information on the Internet is presumed to carry greater weight than the rest. Therefore, a line must be drawn between web sites deemed to be news wheat to be included rather than random web chaff to be excluded. And this can’t be automated, because it is ultimately a normative judgement about the relative credibility and desirability of various sources of information. The process can’t be automatic. And in this case, the inevitable human decision-maker introduced a very strong political bias — probably without really intending to.