The Los Angeles Times recently flagged a troublesome trend at Google News. After an abundance of glowing coverage about the California Central Basin's new recycled water system started showing up in Google News, The Times found proof that the search giant had been duped by a site called News Hawks Review. Sam Allen (a human journalist) reported on Tuesday that Google News (a mixture of human and robot journalists) had included content produced by a corporate communications firm in their collection of news sites. Google promptly reacted by pulling the site out off of their list of trusted news sources.
The controversy in California boils down a simple judgement call, one that human journalists make countless times daily when sifting through press releases in their inboxes. To be included in Google's list of news sources, all you have to do is ask. "If you'd like your news site or blog to be included in Google News, please send us the URL and we'll be happy to review it," reads the site's help page for publisher. "Please note, however, that we can't guarantee we'll be able to include your site in Google News."
It now seems that Google News's gatekeepers also can't guarantee that the sites in Google News are actual news sites. A quick look at News Hawks Review shows that it's super suspicious. Despite some attempts to show a diversity of coverage--an uplifting story about a heart transplant recipient, a post about college sports--there's an odd amount of very specific and very positive coverage about the California Bay Delta Project. We're not talking one or two stories about the local water supply. A whopping 13 out of the 15 most recent stories are about the Central Basin Water District. The headlines are unambiguously slanted. "California Bay Delta Project--A Key To California’s Water Infrastructure" reads one; "Why Does the California Bay Delta Matter To Southern California?" reads another. Meanwhile, the half-baked "About Us" section does not instill confidence in the site's authority. "NewsHawkReivew.com is an Internet News Site with up to date news articles," it reads "If it's news we do our best to report it."