MEDIA BRANDS: Google News' broader reach makes headlines with an editor who's normally difficult to crack

At about 11am on August 22, 2003, the Google News website featured links to stories on topics ranging from the aftermath of the bombing of the UN's Baghdad headquarters to a review of Jackie Chan's latest film.

At about 11am on August 22, 2003, the Google News website featured links to stories on topics ranging from the aftermath of the bombing of the UN's Baghdad headquarters to a review of Jackie Chan's latest film.

The news organizations represented spanned the globe, from the Sydney Morning News to the Calgary Sun, and the page of links taken as a whole was the gateway to an astonishing amount of information and a plethora of viewpoints unmatched by other news websites. Yet, in many ways, all of this was unexceptional - just another hour in the never-ending workday of the most forbidding of editors, one whose contact details you won't find in a media guide. Barring the way to placement on this site, a key part in the growing reach of one of the most influential internet brands, is a set of computer algorithms that pulls information from 4,500 global news sources. Cracking the code is impossible. Figuring out how to benefit from the site's reach is only a bit easier, but that hasn't stopped PR pros from trying. To some, Google's automated selection process for news is a watershed development, along the lines of blogging's rise, in terms of its effects on the spreading of news. "It's become the de facto standard for gathering information and distributing it," says Giovanni Rodriguez, VP at Eastwick Communications. "It has had repercussions for the PR industry and the services that support it." Says Tony Wright, account supervisor at Weber Shandwick, "A lot of people look at it as a primary source, though there's nothing original there." Others, such as James Hannon, Atomic PR cofounder, are not as impressed. "It doesn't bring anything new to the table," he says, likening it to previous news aggregation systems. In other words, the most valuable placements are still those with the most reach, like wire services. Writing and communicating well are still vital, as is not placing a litany of keywords in a press release because the pickup potential seems high. Google News won't necessarily alter the tactics of PR pros acclimated to optimizing messaging strategies for pickup on search engines after initial placement. Yet it could change some strategies. "It's made the open web a preferred channel or vehicle for news," Rodriguez says. "It will pressure services like Factiva and Dow Jones Interactive." The effects of Google News were immediate upon the start of its beta testing last year. Nervous reporters met the launch with articles about an editor-less world. But the unease wasn't confined to the rank and file. According to a Wall Street Journal article last month, the concern spread to execs at behemoths like Yahoo! and Microsoft, who feared this would add to Google's influence. "It's democratized the news distribution process," says Rodriguez, who after pausing for a minute, adds, "But then Google has its own rules, so maybe it isn't more democratic after all." -matthew.creamer@prweek.com

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