"In the world of technology, so much is opaque. It's nice to have some clarity around this stuff," Sreenivasan said. He noted that some of the metrics Google appears to be using to judge the quality of a news source are the same kind of metrics editors would use in deciding whether to trust a publication or not.
He pointed to metrics like staff size and audience diversity as examples. Even Google's use of story length is a good metric, Sreenivasan said. At first blush, it would appear that Google is emphasizing quantity over quality, he said. But the reality is that many high-quality media organizations now generate more content than they used to. So using story lengths and word counts is valid, he said.
"It reflects today's journalism reality," Sreenivasan said.
In an article from The Atlantic last September, Google News executives said the site "algorithmically" collects stories from more than 50,000 news sources and attracts more than 1 billion unique users each week.
Many in the media industry, especially in Europe, have rankled at what they view as Google's leeching away of readers and advertising dollars with its Google News site. But few have so far blocked their content from being displayed there, though Google offers a fairly straightforward way to do so.
Google itself has offered minimal insight about the algorithms it uses to discover and rank news stories. All the company will say publicly is that articles are selected and ranked based on metrics such as how often and on what sites a story appears; freshness of content; location; relevance; and diversity. The company has claimed that it constantly fine-tunes its news ranking to ensure high quality content is shown.
Last year's application appears to be the latest example of that refining process, offering a rare look at the some of the key ingredients Google considers. For instance: