The changing delivery of online news

The way we consume 'printed' news has changed forever - but what will happen next?

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Taking a closer look at the algorithms that shape the news

In this article Nicole Levy ( reported on a panel discussion focusing on online news search algorithms at the South by Southwest conference in March 2014. During the discussion there was an examination of how online news is found by readers and how the content discovery and search algorithms put in place by software engineers unintentionally bias the news that rises to the top. Discovery of news doesn't depend upon the value of the news itself, but the value the algorithms place on that news item.

"In the 20th century, gatekeepers to the marketplace of ideas were mostly white, middle-class editors, reinforcing their ideas about what news was noteworthy; now it may be software engineers whose calculations ultimately determine the kind of stories that find an audience, McBride noted. Algorithms have a direct influence on news values, she said, because many journalists and outlets seeking traffic and revenue give priority to events that spike on algorithm-generated lists."

"There is this idea that is falsely propagated that we're in a superior market of ideas because the algorithms are neutral. They’re not neutral: they’re all based on these mathematical judgments that the engineers have made behind the algorithm..."

The Guardian experiments with a robot-generated newspaper with The Long Good Read/ The Guardian is set to launch a free paper in the US that uses an algorithm to choose content

Looking again at discovery and search algorithms, both of these articles focus on The Guardian Newspaper's "The Long Good Read", which is created from its most popular online content over the previous seven days and printed out as a limited print run 24 page newspaper for distribution at its coffee shop. Content algorithms are used to decide upon the content of the newspaper, rather than relying upon a human editor to make the choice. The algorithms focus on the popularity of articles based upon how much they are shared across social networks. The second article highlights further developments in releasing a similar paper in the USA.

Beware online filter bubbles

This TEDtalk by Eli Pariser goes against the idea that having a personalised and tailored news service is a good thing. He argues that tailoring news to individual users in this way puts us in a filter bubble and blinkers our view of the world. He emphasises that it will "ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy." Alongside this, we can also see that non-neutral search algorithms mentioned earlier would also help enforce that filter bubble.

Do you think news aggregation is evil? "Get over it," Newspeg creator says

Finally, Margaret Looney on International Journalist's Network shares Newspeg CEO Mark Potts’ opinions on content aggregation and curation. He emphasises that some newsrooms have not yet embraced the idea of online content curation and aggregation, even though, when they edit a newspaper they are taking a very similar approach - identifying news stories that they want to go with, pulling them together into a useful form and discarding those they don't want to use. He believes their fear is formed from the idea that their news should be the only source of news, and it seems as those reluctant newsrooms are actually taking a step back from tools that will help ensure their existence.

Mark Potts states that "The idea that there’s a single source for news is dead", and from the different perspectives in this article it could also be suggested that we will not be limited to a single method of discovering and sharing news either, although the forms it will take in the future is difficult to predict.

Gary Green is the Technical Librarian at Surrey County Council Library Service.

Picture via via Flickr.

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