The largest search engine on the Internet has plans to join the media elite – giving preference to such establishment news agencies as CNN and the BBC in searches over new independent media enterprises.

As Google explains it, the rankings will be “according to quality rather than simply the date and relevance to search terms.”

The system is revealed by patents filed in the United States and around the world by researchers based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Currently, the company’s search engine responds with thousands of “hits” in response to simple entries such as “Iraq,” which lead to news websites. These are ranked either in order of relevance or by date, so that the most recent or most focused appear at the top of the huge list.

“This means that articles carrying more authority, say from CNN or the BBC, can be ousted from the first page of results, simply because they are not as recent or as relevant to the keyword entered in the search line,” explains a news account in the New Scientist. “Now, Google, whose name has become synonymous with Internet searching, plans to build a database that will compare the track record and credibility of all news sources around the world, and adjust the ranking of any search results accordingly.”

In other words, Google is going to be making value judgments about which news organizations are more credible.

I have to wonder what kind of expertise Google has setting such parameters. But given their example – CNN and BBC – it’s clear Google’s own prejudice is for the same old biases of the establishment press.

According to the report, the parameters used will include:

  • average story length

  • number of stories with bylines

  • number of bureaus cited

  • how long the company has been in business

  • the number of staffers employed by the agency

  • the volume of Internet traffic attracted to the site

  • the number of countries accessing the site

“Google will take all these parameters, weight them according to formulae it is constructing, and distill them down to create a single value,” says the report. “This number will then be used to rank the results of any news search.”

While WND may do very well in some of these categories – for instance, in Internet traffic and number of countries accessing the site – it cannot, of course, begin to compete with news agencies such as the Associated Press with its 30,000 employees worldwide.

Yet, this is the beauty of the New Media, where a handful of guerrilla journalists have not only broken big stories ignored or overlooked by the Big Media, but helped expose the biases of those organizations.

This raises some serious questions:

  • Is Google trying to win credibility itself with the Big Media?

  • Is Google taking sides with the Old Media against the New Media?

  • Whatever happened to the idea of unfair trade practices?

In the United States, we have a tradition of leveling the playing field and fostering competition in business. It seems now that Google has emerged as something of a dominant search engine it is preparing to help well-established, global news agencies hang on to their dominance – even as they appear most vulnerable to a media revolution sparked on the Internet.

I don’t like it.

Maybe it’s time those of us who have become reliant on Google to start searching for an alternative search engine.

And it’s certainly important for news consumers to be aware of the way they are about to be manipulated.

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