Turning inner space into outer space

January 24, 2015

Google now the most trusted source of news, even though it doesn't produce any

When you think of trusted sources of news, what comes to mind? If you thought of a daily newspaper or a major TV network, then you may be hopelessly old fashioned.

As reported by Search Engine Land, a survey by the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that search engines are now the most trusted source of news. That’s right — many people would rather trust Google than the Globe and Mail.

The flaw here is obvious. Google, Bing and Yahoo don’t have reporters or editors or photographers. Their employees are a bunch of computer scientists.

When people look to a search engine for news, what they’re really doing is seeking out a variety of real news sources and picking one of them. The source they often choose is the website of a newspaper or TV station that actually does have reporters, editors and photographers.

So there is hope. When people say they trust Google, what they may be saying is that they trust it to find trustworthy sources.

Even so, the fact that an increasing number of people are turning to search engines is still bad news for traditional media. After all, advertisers follow eyeballs, and that means Google is a competitor.

The struggling Postmedia newspaper chain is slashing costs and buying up other papers in a bid to create an economy of scale that will lure ad dollars from Google and Facebook. Toronto Star business columnist David Olive writes that citizens have a stake in what happens to Postmedia:

Postmedia’s papers with their depopulated newsrooms run the risk of becoming irrelevant as a bulwark of democracy. Which might not matter all that much except that so many Canadians still rely on them. There’s no obvious alternative to, say, the Edmonton Journal, for authoritative local news about Canada’s “Gateway to the North” and about the world.

The whole column is worth reading. Needless to say, Olive is skeptical about Postmedia’s prospects.

And while this should be disturbing to those of us who feel a well-informed citizenry is important to the proper functioning of a democracy, it should also be alarming to the Internet giants largely responsible for this state of affairs. After all, Google and Facebook need trustworthy news sources to keep their advertisers and readers happy. They may find that they are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Facebook executives recognize this and have pitched solutions to help the news industry. One would be to simply publish everything straight to Facebook and forget about having your own website — otherwise known as selling your soul to the devil.

Google and Facebook may be considered trustworthy by the people who use them. But for those who actually produce the news, there is very little trust.