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The power of a good headline can move even Google

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2008

The headline at Fox News read: "Journalist Who Exposes U.N. Corruption Disappears From Google."

Ah, the power of the headline. Can you imagine that a giant thug-like Google would use its weight on the Internet to cause a one-man news operation to completely disappear? I couldn't believe it.

So I went to Google, typed in "Inner City Press" and easily found its Web site. What's missing here?

I read the Fox News article more carefully and noticed it said that Inner City Press was actually dropped from the Google News Web site. Hmm, I had never used Google News before.

TV and radio news are often criticized because they compress an otherwise complex news story into a segment that may be as short as 30 seconds. It is rare for a story to get five minutes. The printed media is obviously a better alternative. Depending on advertising and subscription support, a story can receive an entire column or even more coverage, which is ample space for providing facts and varying viewpoints. But even so, to get your attention, the editor has to contrive catchy headlines.

The Internet should be able to resolve this problem by providing a vast storehouse of news sources. We can even go directly to the news sources. It was fun to go to Inner City Press and see just how simply this news site is designed. One of the hottest news sites in the world is the Drudge Report. And what is it? A list of headlines! In my busy day, I really need to quickly glance over the headlines to see if there is anything of interest to me. As a result, some things get sensationalized, possibly twisted.

Inner City Press was dropped from Google News because Google said it received a complaint. Coincidentally, it received the complaint a day after it was questioned by the owner and lead reporter of Inner City Press about its relationship to a United Nations agency that he was investigating. Next thing the reporter knew, he received a letter stating that his site was being dropped from the search list of news organizations.

Fox News had some fun with this one. So did a gaggle of whistle-blower organizations, government accountability groups and press freedom advocates. Google said it would reinstitute Inner City Press into the hallowed list of legitimate news sites in a couple of weeks. Six days later, Inner City was reinstated.

To be quite frank, Inner City is considered by its peers to be a bit eccentric. It is rarely cited on other sites. There's not even a mention of it at Drudge Report. But Inner City has been at the bottom of several top-flight scandals in the world of business and at the United Nations, which is why Google's move drew a lot of attention in a hurry.

What this teaches is that the pen is still powerful. Even Google must respect that. It also shows how easy it is for us to be sucked in by a headline; but the Internet provides powerful access to the sources. It also is important to note that Google is not everything. No wonder Yahoo ranks as the number one news site.

• Eric M. Niewoehner can be reached at column@juneau.isa-geek.net.



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