News for Digital Journalists

November 04, 2011

Journalists can now link their Google+ profiles to their stories. Should they?

On Nov. 2 Google announced that journalists can now opt to link their Google+ social network profile with their articles.

These links will start appearing next to Google News over the next several weeks—something that’s a bit controversial for journalists, and which could change how a lot of people perceive the news…

This move is an extension of another Google change from earlier this year: highlighting authors and other content creators in search results.

Google software engineer Eric Weigle explained what happens when journalists link their profiles to their articles:

“When reporters link their Google profile with their articles, Google News now shows the writer’s name and how many Google+ users have that person in their circles. For the lead article for each story, Google News also shows that reporter’s profile picture and enables readers to add them to their Google+ circles right from the Google News homepage.”

If you want to try this, here are Google’s instructions to participate. Note that this program is strictly opt-in. Journalists must take action and meet requirements to create this link—including using a “good, recognizable headshot as your profile photo.” (It’s unclear whether altered photos, like mine, would make this cut.)

But: Google has not yet explained whether or how journalists can revoke this connection if they change their mind.

Technology journalist Alexander Howard points out that making this choice has different implications from deciding whether to be on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.

“Media now have a choice before them: join Google+ to connect profiles with their stories or stay out of the social fray,” he wrote. “It will be a different decision than joining Twitter or Facebook was in years past, before it was clear to the general public that social networking would not be a passing fad. There will be more pressure for journalists to join now, given the rewards that will accrue to having your face in Google News and search results.”

Emily Bell, journalism professor and director of the Tow Center at Columbia University, agrees with Howard that this move puts pressure on journalists—but she doesn’t see that as a good thing.

Bell recently wrote: “By telling journalists that their visibility will only increase (a good thing) by using a particular social platform which demands specific protocols, it is a form of coercion. Profiles on publishers own platforms will not be featured. Neither will profiles on Facebook or Twitter.”

She continued: “The reason why the move to promote journalists who use the service rather than those who don’t is wrong—from Google’s perspective as well as the consumers—is that it does not help filter ‘better news.’ ...It is not beneficial for journalism in the way that Google and its supporters would have you believe. It is only beneficial for Google.”

In a Nieman Lab article, Megan Garber pointed out that this shift may change how people perceive news:

“A Google News populated by headlines and journalistic imagery is quite different from a Google News populated by headlines and journalistic imagery and also imagery of journalists,” she wrote. “And it encourages in consumers a slightly different way of seeing the news itself: not just as a product, but as a product of, you know, someone.”

If journalists’ faces become a common sight in Google News, it’s also possible that news consumers will grow more aware of the diversity (or lack thereof) in news organizations.

It’ll be interesting to see whether a groundswell of journalists who cover topics besides technology opt to make this link. And whether news organizations will prohibit this—or perhaps require it—in their social media policies.

Also, there might be implications for journalists who change jobs or who work for multiple news outlets. Google + is all about individuals, so far: organizations and brands cannot create profiles there. Therefore, at this point creating this link certainly would make journalists more findable and recognizable as individuals. In a shaky media job market, that could raise the visibility of staff journalists in a way that is not subsumed by their current employer’s brand.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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