Monday, October 15, 2012

How Your News Is Completely Wrong

(Or At Least Out Of Date By The Time You Get It)

There was a story on the local news this morning that was humorous in that the moment I heard it, I knew it was wrong. I knew this not because I had inside info about the story itself or any particular interest in whether it was right or wrong, but because I understood that simply by reporting the story the media were changing it. This, in turn, I understood because I know how things work.

The story concerned an interesting phenomenon that happened of late whereby entering “Completely Wrong” into the Google Search engine would result in a slew or results for Mitt Romney.

“Here’s something you may not agree with,” The story began. “Enter ‘Completely Wrong’ into Google and you will get pages of results for Mitt Romney.” The story went on to say that the reason for the seemingly strange behavior of the search engine was that he had called his earlier statements about 47% of the population being lazy, freeloading, victims of the system to be ‘completely wrong’ and that was what the search engine was keying in on.

The problem is that this ignores the simple fact of how a search engine works. In short, as I understand it from my reading – and I admit now to being NOTHING LIKE AN EXPERT on the matter – a search engine searches the web, reading pages and looking at their content. It scores that content and the importance of it by how many times it finds certain words and phrases and how many other web pages link back to the one it is ranking. The more pages link to your page, the more important Google things it is.

So here’s the problem. Most news these days is syndicated – it comes from a few sources that send it out to its affiliates for re-distribution. The news I heard this morning out of Minneapolis is likely to be the same news they hear later this morning in Denver and that was heard earlier this morning in Tampa.

And because practically all the television stations in the country are now putting their news on the web for consumption as well, what we have is a number of news stories that are being broadcast about a Google phenomenon that – by virtue of the fact that they are reporting it – no longer exists. By the time I had gotten to the tablet to verify that I was right…

…all the results for “Completely Wrong” were for stories about how Googling “Completely Wrong” returned Romney stories was itself – “Completely Wrong.” Well, at least they were MOSTLY wrong. By virtue of all the mentions of the phrase that they claimed would return one result, they were substituting another!

Now if you Google “Completely Wrong” the results will be about stories which tell you about the phenomenon of Google returning Romney results rather than the results that the stories talk about. In fact, this story itself is likely to return somewhere in those results. Add enough other stories pointing-out how the media is out-of-touch with how the internet works and you will have a completely new set of results for the same search. This just goes to show you how news has changed in the information age.

Wherever you are this morning, I hope that you’re able to stay atop the changes in your world.

Don Bergquist – October 15 – Kensington, Minnesota, USA

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