Thursday, February 3, 2011

Yahoo! Still doesn't Understand News

I still do not tend to spend very much time with Yahoo! News;  but, when I do, I am reminded of why I bailed on them.  Whatever my motivations may be for reading their reports, I continue to be amused (at best) by the way in which they manage their Top Stories.  Today, however, I was less than amused at how self-serving this alleged service had become for those who are really interested in following hard news in greater depth.

My motivation for going there in the first place was to see how good a job (if any) Yahoo! News was doing in following the events in Egypt.  I got there because I still have a window for technology news on my home page, so I began with the Associated Press story by Raphael G. Satter on how the Egyptian government had stolen Vodafone’s identity to serve as the “author” of pro-government tweets.  From there I progressed to Maggie Michael’s report (also for Associated Press) of current conditions in Cairo.  Things started to get dodgy, however, when I noticed the fourth item in the following Top Stories window:

This was definitely a classic “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.”  Nostalgia for Ronald Reagan is a “top story?”  It turns out that the explanation lurks in those words before the colon (which I am sorely tempted to call “the large intestine of Yahoo! journalism”).  Those words were explained by the following preface to the article itself:

Ronald Reagan would have been 100 years old on Sunday. To mark the date, Yahoo! News asked readers to compare their lives today with their lives during his presidency. Below is an essay from a reader.

In other words this is a reader-contributed story through something called the Yahoo! Contributor Network.  Now it is nice that Yahoo! can provide readers with this opportunity to cite observations and opinions, but what is it doing as a “top story?”  Print journalism has professional standards about separating what appears on the op-ed page from when shows up on the front page, particularly above the fold.  Do the folks at Yahoo! appreciate this difference?

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