What Google’s new Knowledge Graph says about journalists

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Google’s new “Knowledge Graph,” introduced Wednesday, could have some unintended consequences for journalists and news organizations.

I searched about two dozen news organizations, journalists’ names and program titles to see what information would appear in these new “knowledge panels” that display alongside search results.

    The Knowledge Graph information for “60 Minutes” displays two correspondents who died recently and none of the newer correspondents who are helping to attract younger viewers to the program.
  • Generally, the knowledge panels displayed people more frequently than publications, which could reinforce the value of individual journalists’ brands over institutional ones. Nicholas Kristof has an extensive entry, while his employer The New York Times (like similar publications) has minimal results drawn from its Google+ presence.
  • Knowledge panels are self-contained. You can keep reading and clicking inside them and forget the links to the search results that will take you to more information about your original search term. Users may appreciate this and Google will enjoy more time on its site, but news organizations may see less traffic as questions are increasingly answered inside search rather than via search.
  • Portions of the knowledge panels rely on Wikipedia, which can be confusing or inaccurate (Michael Huffington is still listed as Arianna Huffington’s spouse). The excerpts are also by definition incomplete, which can create a false sense of neutrality. For example, results for Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow (see below) describe them with the same broad term, “political commentator,” entirely missing the dramatic differences in their political positions.


Sometimes, the most basic information was the most interesting: the journalists’ full names, height, partners, parents and education.

As Bianca Bosker wrote, “The summaries will also add some surprises into users’ search results, surfacing information users didn’t know they wanted but may be interested in. … The change underscores the steps tech companies are taking to engineer serendipity and introduce us to ideas we might not have discovered otherwise.”

Here’s a sampling of the Knowledge Graph results I saw Thursday morning:

NBC News was one of the few network or cable news divisions that appeared in Knowledge Graph displays.
Results for many news organizations, like The New York Times shown above, featured activity on Google+ rather than information like that shown for NBC News (shown left).
Results for NPR included two radio hosts and one former commentator whose departure from NPR was controversial. Although Ira Glass’ show “This American Life” airs on many NPR stations, it’s not produced or distributed by NPR.
Though in her full Wikipedia entry Maddow describes herself as “liberal,” there is no mention of her politics in this knowledge panel.
Rush Limbaugh’s display includes his job history.
Diane Sawyer’s knowledge panel includes her awards.
Zuckerberg’s net worth will rise once Facebook’s IPO is complete.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s knowledge panel does not list him as a newspaper baron — yet.
Murdoch’s relations with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who appears in his knowledge panel, have been part of the inquiry into media ethics following the phone hacking scandal at Murdoch’s “News of the World.”

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