Google is making some journalists edgy with a new feature that allows story 'participants' to add comments that will display below Google News story links.
The Google comments differ from those on a typical blog in that only "those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question" will be able to add a message, according to Google's announcement from last night. According to a Computerworld news story, Google will vet a commenter to make sure he is who he says he is, and will post the comments as-is without any editing.
Here's an example of a comment:
To read the text, you have to click the comment link, which brings up a whole new page. I'd much rather see the comments expand on the same news listing page, or come up in a pop-up. It's a little annoying to have to use the back button to get back to the story listings.
But that's not what has at least some reporters leery about this new experiment. There are plenty of times when a source thinks we left out useful information, or gave the other side too much credit, or should have used an entire quote. It's our job to boil down a story to its important details and make it flow well (or fit in the allotted space), but that often leaves people in the story less than happy.
In fact, it's common to see a genuinely fair and balanced story on a hot topic tick off both sides in the story, since neither is presented as entirely winning the argument. And I think some journalists may worry that 'participants' with an agenda may cast doubt on a good piece with a comment that might not be entirely accurate, but sounds good and convincing.
Of course, there are also plenty of times when we all-too-human reporters screw up a name or do in fact miss a piece of information, and nobody likes to have their mistakes trumpeted front-and-center.
But realistically, I think this is a good thing. A real online conversation can only add to a story I write, and I think we can trust most readers to discern when a source is trying to sell instead of inform. And I think most sources are similarly understanding. The scientist who left the above-pictured comment, for example, wrote "One thing that is missing is a feeling of all the hard work of many people who helped make this discovery happen, but that is probably not possible in a short news segment."And more importantly, this kind of conversation is inescapable. In a sense, Google is behind the curve here compared with all the back-and-forth in any thriving blog community. The days of essentially one-way communication are over.