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How News Portals Serve Up Political Stories

J.D. Lasica, blogger and frequent contributor to USC Annenberg’s excellent Online Journalism Review, emailed me a few days ago with an interesting question: Why does Google News seem appear to have a conservative bias regarding John Kerry?

My initial response was skepticism – Google News is one of my prefered news sources (not to mention something I’ve spent hours and hours scraping data from) and I’d never noticed a clear political bias. But I was able to quickly recreate the effect Lasica was seeing: when you follow the links for “John Kerry” under “In The News” on the right side of the Google News homepage, you get a surprising number of results from “alternative” news sources – highly partisan, bloglike sites that, for the most part, appear to be run by people who will emphatically not be voting for Senator Kerry.

I’ve got a theory on why this happens, which Lasica features in his recent story for OJR – “Balancing Act: How News Portals Serve Up Political Stories” – alongside some thoughts from Google’s chief scientist. Basically, I think it’s an interesting, accidental linguistic artifact which demonstrates just how hard it is to get an AI to do something as complex as laying out a page of news stories. But stop listening to me and go read Lasica’s excellent article.