Journalism Neutrality Now! Why The Government Needs To Oversee The NY Times' Editorial Neutrality

from the bizarro-world dept

We've tried debunking the ridiculous concept of "search neutrality" a few times now. It's an invention by a few telcos who were upset that Google was supporting net neutrality rules (something I don't support). So they came up with this concept of "search neutrality" to get back at Google. But, of course, the situations are entirely different. The reason why people believe in net neutrality is because your ISP controls what you can do online. You don't have a choice. When it comes to search, not only do you have the ability to make an instant choice, but the whole point of a search engine is to "rank" results based on what it thinks is best. You can't be "neutral" because a "neutral" search is just a unranked list of links that may or may not have anything to do with what you're searching for.

But, it appears the editorial folks over at the NY Times have gotten confused by all of this, and are saying that the government should step in and ensure that Google's algorithm is "fair":
Still, the potential impact of Google's algorithm on the Internet economy is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google's tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google's other businesses.

Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having Google explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its tweaks. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks.
It's difficult to think of anything more ridiculous than a news publication calling for the government to step in and review the editorial guidelines of another company. So, just as the the telcos did with Google, why not flip this around, and make the same point about the NY Times. Here's my attempt:
The potential impact of the NY Times' coverage on the world/economy/war/etc. is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding the NY Times' coverage choices is solely intended to improve the quality of the world, and not to help the NY Times' or other businesses.

Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having the NY Times explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its front page choices. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those guidelines.
How would the NY Times (or pretty much any journalist) react to that? My guess is not too kindly.

Danny Sullivan, it appears, had a similar idea and rewrote the entire NY Times article as if it were talking about the NY Times (rather than just the two paragraphs I did here). He then goes into detail on why the whole thing is bunk.
Search engines are very similar to newspapers. They have unpaid "organic" listings, where usually (though not always), a computer algorithm decides which pages should rank tops. The exact method isn't important. What's important is that those unpaid listed are the search engines' editorial content, content it has solely decided should appear based on its editorial judgment.

Search engine also have paid listings, advertisements, which aren't supposed to influence what happens on the editorial side of the house. We even have FTC guidelines ensuring proper labeling of ads and intended to protect against "advertorials" in search results.

It's a church-and-state divide with good search engines, just as it is with good newspapers.

What the New York Times has suggested is that the government should oversee the editorial judgment of a search engine. Suffice to say, the editorial staff of the New York Times would scream bloody murder if anyone suggested government oversight of its own editorial process. First it would yell that it has no bias, so oversight is unnecessary. Next it would yell even more loudly that the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects it from such US government interference.
He also points out why Google is significantly more transparent than the NY Times about its own editorial policy:
Still, shouldn't Google share more about how it creates its algorithm? Compared to the New York Times, Google's a model of transparency. Consider:
  • Google will list EVERY site that applies for "coverage" unlike the New York Times, which regularly ignores potential stories
  • If Google blocks a site for violating its guidelines, it alerts many of them. The New York Times alerts no one
  • Google provides an entire Google Webmaster Central area with tools and tips to encourage people to show up better in Google; the New York Times offers nothing even remotely similar
  • Google constantly speaks at search marketing and other events to answer questions about how they list sites and how to improve coverage; I'm pretty sure the New York Times devotes far less effort in this area
  • Google is constantly giving interviews about its algorithm, such as this one in February, along with providing regular videos about its process (here's one from April) or blogging about important changes, such as when site speed was introduced as a factor earlier this year.
There's a lot more in Sullivan's piece that basically debunks pretty much every myth that people (beyond just the NY Times) are making out to be an issue about Google's "neutrality" in search. Hopefully this silly concept goes away, but I fear there are too many lobbying dollars invested in it, that folks like Sullivan are going to have plenty of opportunities to re-debunk this concept in the future.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 7:42am

    it absolutely, totally, has to be friday. holy crap mike, talk about a load of crap. nothing more to add, just what a load of crap.

     

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  2.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 7:48am

    You don't think that the NY Times ranking went down do you? :-)

    While we're at it why not do exactly the same for Bing, Yahoo and any other search engine out there. After all, they all can effect the Internet economy. Though goodness knows Microsoft (Bing) would never, ever, ever do anything which might promote its other businesses.

     

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  3.  
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    Ryan, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 7:51am

    Google >> NYT

    The other thing is that Google's "editorial" section is quantum leaps better than the NYT's, which is somewhere in value between smegma and a steaming pile of cow dung. Of all the absolutely crap articles I've read from supposedly reputable sources, over half have probably been from the New York Times (including, I think, every article pseudo-economist Paul Krugman has ever written). I don't think this article particularly deviates from the lack of redeemable value that the other NYT editorials display as well.

    Of course, this is the trend of mainstream media in general - even the Wall Street Journal regularly puts out some pretty bad articles - but the "good" ones generally suffer more from a lack of effort than a lack of intelligence or journalistic integrity.

     

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  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 7:56am

    haha on americans

    wez juz wanz to watzh waz youz arez writingz
    HAIL OBAMA

     

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  5.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 7:59am

    If I had the coding skills

    I would make a truly neutral search engine. It would spider all the websites and even listen to robot.txt. When someone searched for anything, it doesn't matter what, it would return the entire list in a completely random order.

    If someone wants to "steal" this idea, go for it. Just send me a link.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:06am

    A "church-and-state divide" comparison would perhaps be more apt if the actual church-and-state divide in the USA weren't such a mess, with the supreme court ruling that with Blue Laws (still on the books in half the states today) are constitutional, that the executive branch can spend as much all it wants on establishment of religion, and that pretty much no one can have standing to challenge other clear examples of establishment of religion...

    ...or maybe it's a better comparison than it seems, if one is inclined to believe the conspiracy theories about, e.g. the NYTimes coverage of Apple.

     

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  7.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:08am

    Re:

    Just because the point went over your empty little head, that doesn't make it crap. Oh, I get it, must be a day ending in 'y'.

     

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  8.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:08am

    Re: *sigh*

    Good morning troll!
    How are things in your part of the world? I hope they're well. How can I get a job trolling? It seems like a good way to waste time while earning money.

    Or, if that's a bust, who're you working for?

    I don't expect a straight answer... probably some cock'n'bull story about "nobody's paying me to do this" but it rarely hurts to try.

    Anyhow, that's all. Have a nice day.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re: *sigh*

    I think he was mocking TAM, as given away when he said, "nothing more to add."

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:12am

    Those who want "search neutrality" can start their own search engine. If their search engine is any good people will naturally use it.

     

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  11.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:13am

    Re: If I had the coding skills

    No good! Regardless of your method of garnering the data, it appears in some order... by default, that would chronologically by time of indexing.

    The moment it's an ordered list it is no longer neutral. And, if you sort the list on purpose *gasp* then you're being quite discriminatory! I do code... and believe it not, greater discrimination of your data is the key to good input; kinda the opposite of "garbage in, garbage out."

    "Search Neutrality" is right up there with "This Statement is False" on my list of fun logical paradox phrases.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:14am

    Re: If I had the coding skills

    If the govt wants to it can find its own search engine and make it "neutral." But don't interfere with private search engines.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:14am

    Re: Re: If I had the coding skills

    sp/find/fund *

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:30am

    and if search neutrality really is an issue then the most the govt should do is encourage more search options that offer more "neutral" results. but their default options should remain whatever Google wants them to be. This way the public has the option to gain "higher quality" results if they wanted to.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:32am

    Re:

    Perhaps it can have two search options, a government compliant "neutral" one and a Google recommended default one. The public can choose which one they want to use.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:35am

    Re: Re:

    (and I raise this argument because I would like to see how the NY times counters it. Heck, the best counter they can come up with is by making up some lame excuse arguing why the govt compliant one should be the default but they have absolutely no excuse for not allowing the Google recommended one to be a click away. and when the govt compliant one really starts to suck and everyone clicks on the Google recommended one, which simply returns results similar to the results Google currently returns, what will the NY Times argument be then? I just want to know, what could they possibly argue after that?).

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    techdirt neutrality

    What we really need is techdirt neutrality. TAM needs to review and balance the articles here for sure.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    Re: Re: Re:

    and heck, the Google recommended one doesn't even have to be a click away. It can just have another page

    www.google.com could be the govt compliant one. If you click on recommended

    www.google.com/recommended

    could be the google recommended one. and when everyone starts to naturally set www.google.com/recommended as their default search, what will the NYT argue then? What will MSM argue then? What will their argument be? That google can't offer their own recommended search despite offering the govt compliant one as the default? Why?

     

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  19.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    Re: Re: If I had the coding skills

    That's why I'd have it return a completely and freshly randomized list of all of the websites regardless of date, relevancy, clicks, or anything else I couldn't think of. It would be slow as dirt, but it would be more neutral then the NY Times reporting.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    (oh, and my above idea is NON patentable of course. If patents are truly supposed to protect inventors then there should be no patent on this, I came up with it a while ago on Techdirt even).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:43am

    Tosser Search

    We've tried debunking the ridiculous concept of "search neutrality" a few times now. It's an invention by a few telcos who were upset that Google was supporting net neutrality rules


    I agree the term search neutrality is currently (since 2009) being used as a pretense to allow large commercial interests to pressure Google into cooperation with their agenda. The site searchneutrality.org is as a good a reference for this fact as any.

    This pretense is as disingenuous as governments constantly using red herrings to implement draconian policies, such as Australia's Net filter which is supposed to purge the continent of child pornography.

    The very last thing the people of the world need is for governments to step in and start calling the shots on search algorithms. Even more absurd is notion of having the government step in to regulate commercial search engines such as Google under the pretense of "search neutrality".

    The real issue the NY Times has is that they are less and less relevant to the real world, and they want a nice dose of U.S. commercial welfare by forcing Google to make them more visible in their paid results without having to bid more, or go through countless SEO cycles. That's just the way it works and they need to get used to it.

    If the people want a truly open search engine, without biasing towards commercial or "approved" sources it needs to come from a different, community service (funded by donation) style source or under a different advertisement supported model.

    But why do some here comport that search-neutrality would mean listing every site for every search regardless of linguistic algorithmic relevance? To me this argument smacks of inane schilling. Just cut to the chase: the ideal of search neutrality does not and cannot exist with advertisements favored in the results.

    The whole "story" of search-neutrality you've been following here is a bunch of bullshit. It's about profiteering, nothing more. It has nothing to do with an ideal of inclusiveness by relevance.

     

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  22.  
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    TesserId (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:43am

    Just Who Do They Repersent?

    I can't imagine any citizen or consumer groups pursuing this.

    ... almost certain proof that corporations have more influence on the Government than anyone else.

    And, I would never suggest that corporations represent the free market or the people (other than investors).

     

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  23.  
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    ac, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:44am

    Re: If I had the coding skills

    SELECT *
    FROM interwebs..sites
    ORDER BY newid()

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    and seriously, this is the idea that search neutrality opponents should propose. You want search neutrality, fine, we'll have two search pages. One govt compliant one and one Google recommended one.

    The true motive of search neutrality is an attempt to turn the Internet into the deceiving system that everything outside the Internet has turned into and countering with the option of having two search platforms, a govt compliant one and a recommended one, would either force the MSM to drop the idea about search neutrality upon realizing that everyone will simply default to the non govt controlled one or it would further expose the true intent behind these search neutrality arguments, to unfairly benefit those who argue in its favor (of course they will come up with another excuse, but the point is that their other excuse will be even less defensible. It would be something silly like, "but too many search options clutters the market and causes confusion" or some other silly nonsense argument).

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 8:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    and of course the govt compliant search engine could also be just a click away from the non compliant one, even displayed as a link on the screen somewhere. That way there is no excuse that some people might miss the govt compliant one and never have the opportunity to learn about it because their friends only told them about the non compliant one. No, the non-compliant one links to the compliant one, everyone who uses the non-compliant one can see the link to the compliant one. It's transparent.

    I just want to make sure that every possible argument against my above idea is destroyed because I know TAM or some other troll can't wait to find a counter argument no matter how lame.

     

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  26.  
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    Cowardly Annon, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 9:30am

    Why is it just Google who should release it's algorithm? What about Microsoft's Bing? Yahoo? Altavista? AOL?

    Really, if they wanted to make this about Search Neutrality, they should use the more general 'search engines' rather than just naming Google.

    They way that Google is called out would suggest that it's less an issue with Search Neutrality and more an issue with Google Neutrality. And I'm not quite sure which idea is more stupid.

     

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  27.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 9:41am

    Re:

    You are quite correct this has nothing to do with search neutrality.

    Google is the only one called out because it is by far the most capitalized of the search engines. These are not ideals being chased, just dollar signs.

     

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  28.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 10:08am

    Answering: "why not flip this around"?

    Because calls for gov't regulation play into the increase of a police state, normalizes such measures and the notion that setting the gov't at enemies is acceptable retaliation. Even as a hypothetical, it's a dangerous practice.

    "How would the NY Times (or pretty much any journalist) react to that? My guess is not too kindly."

    My observation, not guess, is that some portion of journalists are *eager* to see a police state fully implemented and welcome even your putting the notion out.

     

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  29.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 10:18am

    Re:

    I agree, that pretty much accurately sums up the entirety of your comments on fridays (other days maybe slightly less so).

     

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  30.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 10:19am

    Re:

    By the way, how is the discarded air conditioner staring business going?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    NullOp, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 10:25am

    Neutrality

    You can forget about any neutrality in anything in the U.S. It's business, business, business. We will market to you 24/7, even on the back of your eyelids if we have to!

     

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  32.  
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    Bruce Ediger (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    If I were Google, Microsoft and/or Yahoo, I'd rabidly support having a "Search Neutrality Compliant" version, and a good, free-market version. I'd want the Search Neutrality Compliance Regulations as convoluted and obtuse as possible, without seeming too obvious.

    Why, you might ask?

    The cost of creating, certifying (and regularly re-certifying) and running the "Search Neutrality Compliant" monstrosity would raise a substantial barrier to entry into the web search market, just like other such consumer-protection mandates have done (Sarbanes Oxley, anyone?).

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I did think of this and perhaps this search neutrality version should only apply to big search engines that are able to afford it.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    (but of course we know that it will tend to get extended, lol).

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Or another solution is that the govt can either start its own search neutral engine or ordain a private company to start its own govt compliant search neutral engine and require Google's private search to link back to the govt or govt ordained search neutral site as an option. This way everyone has the opportunity to use a search neutral engine and can see it. Or maybe as long as all private search engines do link back to any government compliant search neutral engine then it's fine.

    So Microsoft and Google both start separate govt compliant search neutral engines and non search neutral engines. I make my own search engine. So long as my search engine either offers a govt compliant search neutral option of its own or so long as it links to either Google's or Microsoft's search neutral option I'm OK. I can choose which govt compliant search neutral engine my engine will link back to.

    What does the NYT and MSM have to say about that?

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    (and of course Google and Microsoft wouldn't mind because to the extent that people who make their own private search engine link to the Google and MS govt compliant search engines and to the extent that users use these links to click to Google and Microsoft this will bring Google and MS more traffic. Everyone is happy, except the MSM et al that want to use the govt to force search engines to unfairly benefit big corporations and not offer a free market version).

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The point is I just want to see their argument against offering a free market version alongside (links to) a govt compliant search engine. What are your arguments? Search should give us options to find what we want, the more options, more opportunity to find what we want. What, is their argument that we shouldn't be allowed to find what we want? What are their arguments. I want to see my above idea presented to counter their arguments to see what they can possible counter with.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    possibly *

     

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  39.  
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    Tank_Szuba (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    Alternative Thinking

    Although there is much debate surrounding this topic i think it might help to draw some other real world parallels to the debate (as Mike often does) to kind of help to put things in to perspective. IMHO (aside from the actual reasons for the NY Times to make their argument) if you want to boil down their argument to its most basic form you could say that basically they want the government (or other third part) to regulate Googles "secret sauce". Well lets put that into perspective. Googles secret sauce is what makes them stand out in the crowd of a marketplace. The same could be said of other companies secret sauce that make them stand out in the market place and the one that immediately came to mind (for whatever reason but i have a cooking background) is A1 brand Steaksauce. Now I must admit that i cannot find any specific data relating to Krafts market share with this or it's related products but i think it would be safe to assume that they are likely in a dominant position with them (as can be seen by simply going down the condiment aisle). If you note on the side of the bottle it has these specific ingredients (copied from Krafts website) TOMATO PUREE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), DISTILLED VINEGAR, CORN SYRUP, SALT, RAISIN PASTE, CRUSHED ORANGE PUREE, SPICES AND HERBS, DRIED GARLIC AND ONION, CARAMEL COLOR, POTASSIUM SORBATE (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), XANTHAN GUM. Note the portion that says Spices and Herbs. it does not detail which ones. That is their secret sauce. Given the fact that you eat steak sauce and being that is specific contents are unknown, one could have a bad or fatal reaction. On the flip side though using Google if you have a bad experience you simply click away with your health intact. Why then should we regulate a the "secret sauce"? Please counter my argument or suggest better examples.

     

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  40.  
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    Gwiz, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

    It's an invention by a few telcos who were upset that Google was supporting net neutrality rules (something I don't support).

    Mike, this line confused me - are you saying you don't support net neutrality?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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