Reporting of Falwell's death demonstrates anew why Google News needs human touch

When a public figure of the fame and stature of the Rev. Jerry Falwell dies, the news bursts across the planet at Internet speed ... everywhere, curiously enough, except on the main news page of the company that does more to move digital information than any other, Google.

At the homepage of Google News, even the most important news events dawdle into view.

The reason is simple: Google News employs no human beings as editors, and it is human editors who hop to it to make sure that press-stopping news gets to readers in the most timely fashion possible, which means right now (I once got to yell, "Stop the presses," by the way).

By my observation, the news about Falwell was nowhere to be seen on the Google News homepage until 2:05 p.m. (Eastern), and even then the highlighted accounts were from media outlets still reporting that he was "gravely ill." (The inability of Google News to highlight the most recent reports immediately is yet another drawback of a software-commanded news outlet.)

By the time the Google News homepage reacted, reports of Falwell's death were a half-hour old or so on sites such as Yahoo, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. Even those relics of journalism - newspapers, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and San Jose Mercury News - had their Web sites on the case before the Google News homepage. The initial reports of Falwell having been "gravely" ill were almost an hour old by the time they were noted on Google News.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things this blind spot at Google News - not their only one - is of little consequence. I mean the news gets around plenty fast and all these days.

But here's a snippet from the Google News FAQ page:

"Our articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online. As a result, stories are sorted without regard to political viewpoint or ideology and you can choose from a wide variety of perspectives on any given story. We'll continue to improve Google News by adding sources, fine-tuning our technology and providing Google News to readers in even more regions."

Never mind more technology: Do your customers a favor and add a human being to the mix. ... Editors are cheap, believe me.

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