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Filterless News?

(AP / CBS)
Online search engine-slash-titan Google announced the other night that they are going to add a new feature to their (in my mind, peerless) news page: Comments from those people mentioned within the stories. According to their statement:
We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as "comments" so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report.
At first blush, this sounds great. Let's get the information straight from the horse's mouth. If there is more to the story, let's hear it out.

But this new tactic brings a substantial "caveat emptor" to the process. After all, part of the journalist's job is to cull out the wheat from the chaff, to find out where the "news" is in a story. Sure, you and I may disagree on what the pull quote was from the other night's Democratic 'Forum.' (Really? Hillary Clinton said "I'm your girl?" That's all we get from the 90-minute discussion?) But without the journalist attempting to boil down a speech or an issue to a couple hundred words, we're back where we started.

What Google is doing sounds good in theory – and I'm sure some stories will benefit from a first-person assessment – but I suspect that more often than not it's going to add an unnecessary course to our media diet. Take, for example, the above example: Hillary Clinton's quote. What if she were to try to move past the "I'm your girl" quote and post her 1,000 word plan for Iraq or labor policy alongside the Google News story? If you got through all that, sure, you'd have her side of things down pat -- but it'd only be her side of things without much context on how the other candidates compare. Or how about Barry Bonds posting his spin on the issues and controversy surrounding his home runs next to news accounts? This goes beyond President Bush's strategy of going "around the filter" of the news media. This is bordering on journalistic Lucky Strikes – filterless news.

I am a big-time proponent of transparency and responsible journalism and ethics in quoting, but the new Google concept adds the very step that the profession of journalism is designed to eliminate. Correcting a misquote here or a clarification there will be a great improvement to the process, but when and if the media moves towards becoming a press release service its not a time to celebrate.

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