Ranking the Quality of Online News

How good are the 4,500 news sources from around the world that Google News continuously crawls? Newsknife is an intriguing measurement tool that rates news sites for quality.

Newsknife is a project of Industry Standard Computing Ltd (ISC), a software development organization based in New Zealand. Established in 1988, ISC is privately owned and has no media industry connections. According to Newsknife, "Content on the site that is originated by ISC is opinion."

However, Newsknife started backing up its opinion this month with a new method of rating news sites on "relevance" that appear on Google News.

According to Newsknife, "The Google News web site features major news items, each with links to hundreds of the world's news sites carrying their versions of that item. These sources are sorted by relevance by Google News. The ones they judge the most relevant are at the top for readers' easy access."

Newsknife is now watching this relevance sorting and producing rankings of the most relevant news sites.

From December 2003 through February 2004, Newsknife recorded a maximum of 300 sources for each of 249 news items. In total, Newsknife recorded 40,702 individual source site listings by 1,295 sites.

Newsknife studied only those categories of stories at Google News that it considers hard news: the Top Two stories, the three top World Stories and the three top US stories.

What are the most relevant news sites? According to Newsknife, they are:

  1. New York Times
  2. ABC News
  3. Reuters
  4. Washington Post
  5. San Francisco Chronicle
  6. Voice of America
  7. CNN
  8. The Christian Science Monitor
  9. Xinhua, China
  10. Toronto Star, Canada
  11. Guardian Unlimited
  12. Newsday

Newsknife believes Google News is a good barometer of how well a news site is serving the general public. Newsknife says, "If a news site does well in Google News rankings chances are it will do well outside of Google News."

The headlines on the Google News homepage are selected entirely by a computer algorithm, based on many factors including how often and on what sites a story appears elsewhere on the web. In other words, Google News relies on the editorial judgment of online news organizations to determine which stories are most deserving of inclusion and prominence on the Google News page.

That's why most of the names in Newsknife's list are not surprising. They are mostly a Who's Who of well-known news sites. But one name does stand out, 9th placed Xinhua, China. Why? Newsknife studies the main Google News site, which is aimed mainly at a US audience. Is Xinhua relevant to this group?

Newsknife says, "The fact is Xinhua appeared often and well in our sample. Their news story topics were global." Xinhua also ranked well on hot stories like Asian bird flu.

Newsknife is taking their work a step further, suggesting that news sites might be able to "optimize" their stories, in much the same way that search engine optimization specialists optimize ordinary web pages to achieve higher rankings.

According to Newsknife, "Individual news sites may be able to increase their relevance to news fans by employing News Relevance Optimization (NRO) techniques, where they attempt to improve the presentation and usefulness of their news items. This is a variation of the huge Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry, where web sites strive to be at the top of search engine results."

Newsknife won't recommend particular SEO organizations to conduct an "NRO review," a phrase invented by Newsknife to describe SEO for news sites and news items. However, Newsknife will be happy to sell you Individual new site Relevance Profiles for $US200.

Or, for $US10, you can get a 3-month membership, which enables you to visit the Newsknife members' area, where you'll find a ranked list of 71 news sites showing how often Google News used each of them as the first source for a major news item.

Using this data, online news providers can get a very good picture of how their news site is doing over time compared with rivals. And if a site modifies itself or its stories in some way to improve its relevance, it can use Newsknife to monitor the results.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR and was a speaker in the Public Relations Via Search Engines session at the Search Engine Strategies 2004 Conference & Expo held earlier this month in New York.

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