How to get your site into Google News

Google News’ Daniel Meredith made the trip to competitor territory to speak to a roomful of online journalists at Yahoo HQ during last week’s NewsTools 2008 conference in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Meredith explained how Google makes the decision to include a website in Google News, and what else news publishers can do to improve their websites’ performance in the view of Google’s robot army.

Why should publishers care? Google News is one of the world’s most popular news portals, “in the top five worldwide,” according to Meredith. As important than occasional presence on the Google News front page, though, is presence in Google highly popular e-mail news alerts, which draw upon, and drive traffic to, Google News-indexed websites.

These alerts don’t just drive traffic to the New York Times and CNN. News sites covering a niche area can see hundreds, if not thousands, of new daily unique visitors if their stories are included in a keyword-driven Google News e-mail alert.

Finally, “being in [Google] News does buy you credit in Web” search results, Meredith said. News publishers undermine their search engine optimization strategy by not making a request for inclusion in Google News.

And if you haven’t asked, you are not in, Meredith said. News publishers must make an explicit request for inclusion in Google News. Though Google News is published by an algorithm, the decision to include a particular website as a source in Google News is made by human beings, Meredith said.

“What do we look for?” asked Meredith. Four things, he replied:

  • Original content
  • Multiple authors
  • Proper attribution
  • Response time

    The first and third points should not be issues for any experienced journalist. But the second point would be of obvious concern to many bloggers and independent publishers. Great original content from a single talented writer is not enough to get Google’s blessing. If you want the traffic the Google News can deliver, consider forging a partnership with other writers or finding ways to elicit high-quality reader-submitted content that can add additional bylines to the front page of your site.

    On the fourth point, Meredith was referring to server response time. Google’s news bots are looking for pages that they can index swiftly, and that will load quickly for readers, too. News publishers should take frequent looks at their hosting situation, both to make sure that their servers are tuned for optimum day-to-day performance, as well as having the ability to handle a sudden traffic surge from a major breaking news event. Publishers using custom-built content management tools need to consider the added factor of code efficiency, especially code bloat, as they add and modify their system’s tools. That neat new “share this link” function might look nice, but you have to be careful that it, or some other new widget, isn’t slowing your pages’ load times.

    Once a site in in Google News, what can it do to help move its pages to the top of news search results?

    Meredith’s reply? Use a sitemap. Sitemaps are XML files that describe to a search engine robot all of the content available for indexing on a website. Think of it as a giant RSS-style feed that describes everything on your website.

    Google enables Web publishers to submit sitemaps via Google’s webmaster tools service. (If you are a news publisher and have not yet signed up on Google’s webmaster tools, do it now. It’ll be the best thing you do today to help promote your Web traffic.) Some content management systems, such as Drupal, include modules that will generate a sitemap automatically.

    “Most problems that small newspapers have with search engine optimization is that they have non-standard layouts,” Meredith said. That leaves search engine robots like Google’s struggling to differentiate headlines, updates and relevant keywords. Sitemaps eliminate such confusion, helping robots see clearly which articles are updates, as well as to extract appropriate headlines and summaries.

    Another problem facing news publishers is duplicate content. Google penalizes sites that run too many duplicates of stories from other websites, as well as too many duplicates of stories from its own site.

    The solutions? First, invest your time in original content, not just setting up more wire feeds. (See inclusion criterion number one, above.) Second, “edit more,” Meredith said. Don’t just stream out a new story with every altered keystroke. Take a moment and do a tough edit that will hold up until you have substantial new information to add to the story.

    Finally, write or install a module to your content management system that will generate search-engine friendly URLs, ones that include relevant keywords, and not strings of question marks, numbers and other characters that don’t tell outsiders anything about the content of that webpage.

  • Sunlight Foundation offers reporting tools to cover U.S. politics online

    The Sunlight Foundation ought to be in the bookmarks list of any journalist covering U.S. national politics. OJR talked with Sunlight’s Ellen Miller two years ago about the organization’s efforts to enlist readers to help keep a watchful eye on Congress. Last week at the NewsTools 2008 conference in Sunnyvale, Calif. Bill Allison, senior fellow at the foundation’s Sunlight Labs, described some of the new online reporting tools on which the foundation is working.

    Sunlight Labs has been digitizing a variety of federal disclosure data and making that available online via application programming interfaces [APIs]. Current projects include a widget that pop-ups a hyperlinked profile of a member of Congress when someone mouses over his or her name on your webpage and a Google Map mash-up pinpointing the geographic location of almost all earmarks from last year’s Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

    But it was the Labs’ newest project that Allison demonstrated in an early-morning break-out session at the conference. “Influence Explorer,” still under development and not yet released to the public, will allow readers “one-click disclosure” of a lawmaker’s earmarks, contributions, expenses and trips.

    All the data that Influence Explorer will access is available now to the public, through a variety of services, including many of those listed on the foundation’s Insanely Useful Web Sites page. But tracking a lawmaker’s disclosures through multiple sites and databases can consume hours. What Sunlight Labs wants to do, Allison said, is to consolidate search requests and return multiple results from a single click.

    “Why should you have to go to 15 different places to see what your congressperson is doing,” Allison asked.

    Allison demonstrated how Influence Explorer’s “data chewer” could help a reporter use a press release to get useful background about a Congressional earmark, for example.

    [A lesson in Government 101, for those not familiar with the term: An “earmark” is money that Congress assigns to a specific projects, outside the executive branch departments’ normal allocation procedures. It’s how members of Congress funnel money to their districts. Here is the Office of Management and Budget’s definition.]

    Allison pasted a snippet of text from a press release about a Congressional appropriation for a new project. Influence Explorer used text analysis of the snippet to find common phrases and names with other releases and entries in its associated databases. It then returned a wealth of context for a journalist reporting the story.

    Other earmarks from the same representative. Top contributors to the representative. Campaign contributions from employees of the company receiving the earmark. Expenses filed. Trips taken.

    All the juicy details that helped take a ho-hum story about a grant and turn it into a far more interesting tale about a firm that suddenly started giving thousands of dollars to a member of Congress, then received millions on federal funding soon after.

    Allison said that the core technology behind Influence Explorer is not new, and that corporate lawyers have been using “data chewers” like this to perform textual analysis to cross-reference documents for some time. Putting this technology in journalists’, and the public’s, hands would help level the field, Allison said.

    The downside? It ain’t ready yet. Allison wouldn’t give an ETA for the project’s public release. Still, the foundation does have many other tools available. Allison invited conference attendees to work with the Sunlight Foundation to find access to data and data analysis tools that could help improve and inform their coverage of Washington politics. Allison and others at the foundation can be contacted through the foundation’s website, at

    For notes from other sessions at NewsTools 2008, please visit the NewsTools website.

    Confessions of an online journalism tool

    Journalist Noah Barron has been with OJR for two years now and, having completed his Masters’ degree, is ready to (re)join the real world. Guest writer W00tBloggyBlogg interviewed Noah about the secrets to success in online journalism that he learned at Annenberg and OJR as well as his plans for the future.

    W00tBloggyBlogg: u graduated wtf are you gonna do now?

    Noah Barron: Boy, I sure wish I knew. I’m looking for a job but it’s turning out to be really difficult, given the journalism market right now.

    WBB: lol srs? u prolly suck at jourlsm amirite? or maybe they saw ur uggfase on fasebook hehehehe 😉

    Noah: I hope not. I think I bring a variety of skills to the table–writing, editing, Web design, video production, photography and graphics, but mostly I’m finding it’s well-nigh impossible to get any kind of response from employers I send applications to.

    WBB: wtf is well-nigh? also dont end ur sentences w/ a preposition. so like u send apps in & the doods are like “rofl this fool sucks” or wut?

    Noah: Honestly, I have no idea. I send out resumes to nearly every position on MediaBistro and other similar media job sites–dozens of applications total–and have never gotten a single return e-mail or call. Not one.

    My only job leads are from internships I’ve done and personal contacts I’ve made. I guess I’m just surprised that in the age of digital journalism, a digital journalist’s digital job searches are so seemingly useless.

    WBB: whatvr dood dont cry QQ y not start ur own blog and make bux on ads etc?

    Noah: I mean, that’s definitely an option. I already have a site, but haven’t developed it properly. I just feel like I need health insurance and a steady income coming out of graduate school…is that too much to ask?

    WBB: obvi!!!! u should post more lohan upskirts imo 😛

    Noah: See, that’s what I’m trying to avoid. If I’m going to be a DIY-blogger/journalist, I want to create meaningful, interesting content that is relevant enough to belong in a newspaper, but is tailored to an online audience.

    WBB: o so like blah blah darfur blah blah global warming zzzzz yeah thatll get lots of hits. gg dood.

    Noah: Come on Bloggy, don’t you think we can find a way to package socially-conscious, important news for the casual Web reader while also turning a profit?

    WBB: ….

    Noah: Well, what do you suggest?

    WBB: durr y not offer something useful to ur readers instd of whining on the interwebz? that’s y most blogs r real boringzzzzz urs included :/

    Noah: You’re right, Blogg. It’s not too late to turn this column around and offer helpful content. How about a toolbox filled with essential survival equipment for freshly-minted online journalists, resources I’ve gathered over the last two years?

    WBB: rofl!!!! whatever dood too bad google ads doesnt pay u in foodstamps AYO!!!

    You: Online

    Presenting your body of work, identity and bona fides online is the first step in the right direction. That means you need webspace, a UI and a URL. My first day on the job at OJR, Robert Niles told me to register my own name. Best advice I was given at grad school. If you can’t get your name, you likely can find a variation that’s not already taken.

    [WBB: lol unless ur given name is perezhilton or freepr0n…]

    1. Get a free blog at Blogger or WordPress, or. if you’re a bit tech-savvy…
    2. Put the WordPress platform on your site, for which you will need…
    3. Webspace and your own domain. There are a million places to register a URL and buy hosting space…I use GoDaddy, but there’s probably one tailored exactly to your needs.
    4. Or, just use GoogleAps and Google Page Creator to easily create a clean, simple site with 100 MB of free storage.

    [WBB: …o rly? i just use myspace for the journalism imo. and by journalism i mean spring break pix]

    The right tool for the job

    There are a multitude of free (or cheap), powerful tools available to the online journalist that approximate expensive software and make you look more professional than you are. Which is a good thing.

    5. Slide and Picasa offer great free image hosting and cool slideshows for your multimedia journalism projects.
    6. Picnik approximates Photoshop for refining and color-correcting those images.
    7. OpenOffice is the free solution to not having the money to get the MS suite for your small business. It supports one-click PDF export from Word and text documents, too. Very handy.
    8. VistaPrint is a great place to create business cards, stationery and other stuff for almost free (usually the cost of shipping) and smart perusal of RetailMeNot often yields coupons that make it even cheaper.
    9. Submit your podcast audio (which is hosted on your server) to iTunes so everyone can find it.

    Make money

    More likely than not, a recent grad/DIY journalist with a just-launched blog can’t subsist purely on Google AdSense revenue and PayPal donations. Sooner or later you might have to find a part- or full-time gig. Here are some of the more obvious online J-job portals, such as they are.

    [WBB: yeah worked real well for you lol ps i’d like extra ranch and no onions lolll]

    10. JournalismJobs
    11. MediaBistro
    12. MediaPost
    13. Ed (2010), for internships
    14. New Assignment for open-source reporting jobs

    There are thousands more tools, techniques, job sites and opportunities–so please contribute to this evolving list. After all, that collaborative process is what makes online journalism so exciting.

    [WBB: thats what she said]

    (Shoutout to Nick Sylvester, from whose explanation-of-why-he-was-fired-from-the-Village-Voice-blog I kinda lifted the gimmick for this article. Semi-NSFW?)