Coming late to this – but then again, I’ve been late to post pretty much all of this year, so what’s new? – but wanted to flag Google’s new “fact check” links that come up in Google News.
This is huge – or yuge! – news for both consumers of news and for structured journalism more broadly.
Why, you ask? It’s just a new kind of link.
Well, yes. But it’s three other things as well.
First, it’s a link driven by Google, which means millions – hundreds of millions – of people will see it and use it, and hence drive up the value and importance of fact-checking, at least in theory.
Second, it stems from a recognition by Google – or at least I hope it does – that people’s news needs aren’t driven solely by the freshest story on the subject, and more by a desire to understand a subject in context. That explains, to some extent, why Wikipedia has become a real destination for news searches, and certainly pushes the value of depth rather than just speed. (Not that speed doesn’t matter as well, of course).
And thirdly, by highlighting only the fact checks that conform to a certain schema, Google is rewarding the notion of structured journalism, and using the best of what the idea has to offer: Building greater long-term value out of structuring the information journalists collect, analyze and publish every day.
To be sure, some don’t see that as an advantage, as this piece from Slate suggests:
Google seems to have a somewhat narrow view of fact-checking journalism, one that defines it by form as much as by function. It will likely leave out plenty of stories that could merit the tag, while including some others that might not. At least at first, it seems to be surfacing stories mainly from dedicated fact-checking organizations, such as Politifact, rather than articles from mainstream news organizations.
And it’s true that there are fact checks embedded in all sorts of types of journalism that won’t be surfaced by this new link. On the other hand, it’s just as likely that people don’t want to wade through a mountain of text to find out if a specific fact or issue they were searching for is true. Perhaps the bigger question is why stories that do have fact checks embedded in them don’t throw those out as discrete fact checks on their own as well, following the appropriate schema.
After all, all the hard work of reporting has already been done at that point; why not simply structure some of the findings and get much more long-term value out of it?
For that matter, why don’t more fact-checking organizations – at last count, more than 100 exist around the world – take on this schema so their work will get more distribution and shelf-life? As Slate notes, only about 10 sites are following the schema at the moment.
That said, that’s quibbling. This is a huge step forward for structured journalism – and for people just wanting to find out the truth when they search for a piece of news. Tip of the hat to Bill Adair, one of the founders of Politifact, who’s been working tirelessly at getting this out the door for many months now.