October 26, 2011, 11:00 AM — Among content producers the criteria Google News uses to choose its top stories is infamous for its inscrutable, often perversely unpredictable choices.
Break a huge story in a U.S.-based publication about an important change in politics, technology or social crisis and, by the time it shows up on news.google.com's home page your story will be in the No. 39 spot, well below the See All xxx Sources link, while the top headline and photo will be a version rewritten from a wire-service summary of your headline, heavily localized and republished by the Hindustan Times, which may mention the wire service as a source, but not you.
The news judgment – or at least the sourcing – of the algorithmic Google Gods is more predictable now than a year or two ago, but the priorities remain somewhat opaque and often self contradictory.
The top item in the Technology section headlines at 9 a.m., for example was packed with photos of Virginia (Ginni) Rometty, who was elected yesterday as the first female CEO in the long, iconic history and Neolithic culture of IBM.
True, the transfer of power was so smooth that ITWorld columnist Chris Nerney suggested it should be the model by which other corporate transfers of power should be made. So maybe the lack of drama reduced its chance for screaming headlines.
Still. Despite the photos of Rometty, almost all the headlines referred to the other decision IBM's board made yesterday – to buy back $7 billion worth of its own stock.
By 9:30 the featured top spot reoriented to highlight stories focused on Ms. Rometty's promotion, background and likely priorities for the largest but least-influential-for-its-size company in the computer business.
The early focus on dividends and stock buybacks might have based on the audience available at the time: movement of any pile of money too large to fit in an attaché case is more important to early-rising, early-trading investment managers than a revolutionary choice of chief executive at even a large, wealthy company.
Just as likely, though for the same reason, was that the bulk of stories available on IBM during the early morning hours were from financial-news sources that would focus on dividends and stock buybacks as being more important than the movement of people.