Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yahoo! News Isn't!

I have not had much to say about Yahoo! News since last April, when I made good on my promise to remove the Today's Highlights window from my home page. My point at the time was that crowdsourcing has nothing to do with the professional standards of journalism and probably operates at cross purposes to those standards. As a result I now have only two news-related windows on my home page, both of which relate to technology topics.

Nevertheless, on the occasion when I decide to dig into an item in one of those windows, curiosity always draws me to the Top Stories window at the upper left of ever Yahoo! News page. There, on this particular morning, I happened to see the following hyperlink:

Supreme Court Justice Scalia takes on women's rights

My curiosity was piqued enough that I decided to follow it, which turned out to be an interesting lesson in what Yahoo! (or their crowdsourcing model) thinks news is. The first red flag was the recognition that the content was not particularly timely: It seems to have been based on a talk that Antonin Scalia gave at the end of last week at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law (which happens to be just down the street from where I live). However, it became quickly apparent that this was not, in any sense of the word, reporting; rather it was an opinion piece on Scalia's philosophy of originalism, which he seems to be exercising with increased vigor in the wake of the publication of Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View, by Scalia's ideological opponent, Justice Stephen Breyer.

The byline for this article included the Time logo, followed by this line of text:

By ADAM COHEN – 2 hrs 23 mins ago

Thus, the very first impression of the piece enhanced the deception of timeliness; but at least Cohen was up front enough to give the actual time of Scalia's speech. The more critical revelation did not come until the end of the article:

Cohen, a lawyer, is a former TIME writer and a former member of the New York Times editorial board. Case Study, his legal column for, appears every Wednesday.

In other words nothing at the "top of the page" gave any indication that this was nothing more than a weekly column, which clearly made it an opinion piece. How, then, did Yahoo! News come to classify it as a "Top Story?" Was the "news" that Cohen had just finished his weekly column? (FLASH! Stop the presses!) Enquiring minds want to know!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

in late 2006 when silicone breast implants were approved, the story was on the Yahoo! News homepage for two weeks straight. FYI.