Are Google’s Publishing Profits Fake News?

Written by FASPE Journalism Fellows: Ian KullgrenChristine Rushton, and Dustin Volz

Journalists, like everyone, can easily fall victim to their own confirmation bias, especially when the issue hits close to home. The New York Times this past week published an article based wholly on a study conducted by a group called the News Media Alliance that asserted that Google had made $4.7 billion from the work of news publishers last year through its search and Google News enterprises. The implication was that a monetary figure could be attached to the damage done to newsrooms across the country that have seen revenues fall as tech behemoths steadily taken more eyeballs–and advertising dollars–away from news publisher websites.

The methodology used to determine that dollar amount, however, was quickly scrutinized by other journalists, and many concluded it lacked merit. As FASPE Journalism faculty member Bill Grueskin noted in a series of tweets, the calculation relied on an offhand “comment (former Google vice president) Marissa Mayer made 11 YEARS AGO” and data extrapolation that appeared more like guesswork.

Publishing an entire article based on one study from a group with a thin track record would raise concerns in many cases about whether a news organization had done enough to verify the information being provided. Journalists are taught to always seek confirmation from other sources, especially if the source may have a particular perspective or agenda. But it is a constant challenge to maintain standards of verification when the information comports to a journalist or newsroom’s preexisting views and prior reporting. When it does, journalists must consider whether a heightened level scrutiny of their reporting is required, and how to weigh the demands to produce clickable articles against the expectations to act prudently in order to get it right.

Read the original analysis by Nieman Lab.

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