Google Is Testing a New App That Would Let Anyone Publish a Local News Story
By WILL OREMUS
JAN 26, 201812:36 AM
Google is testing a new tool for people to report and publish local
news stories, called Bulletin.
A website first spotted online Thursday describes Bulletin as “an app
for contributing hyperlocal stories about your community, for your
community, right from your phone.” It’s designed to make it
“effortless” to tell “the stories that aren’t being told” via your
smartphone. It’s not just for techie early adopters: “If you are
comfortable taking photos or sending messages, you can create a
Bulletin story!”, the site says.
The app is in a “limited pilot” in just two cities: Nashville and Oakland.
Google confirmed the project Friday morning. “This is very much in the
testing phase and aimed at hyperlocal stories and events for people to
share, and for local media to take advantage of,” spokeswoman Maggie
Shiels told me. “People everywhere want to know what is going on in
their own backyard at a very local level, ranging from local bookstore
readings to high school sporting events to information about local
Sami Cone, an author and blogger, reported via Twitter that she had
been invited to Google’s announcement of the new tool in Nashville on
Thursday. (Hat tip: Stefan Constantinescu*.) She published a blog post
and a smartphone video of the launch event on YouTube.
The announcement appears to have flown entirely under the radar of the
national media and tech press—perhaps illustrating a point that Google
hoped to make. Both Oakland and Nashville have burgeoning tech
industries and are Google Fiber cities. But they also have high
poverty rates and lie beyond the klieg lights of the big media hubs.
A Google spokesman at the Nashville launch event, whom Google
identified to me as product manager James Morehead, described Bulletin
in the video as a progressive web app—a website that looks and
functions like an app. “Creating a website, creating a blog is a
pretty high bar for a lot of people,” he said. So a team of designers
at Google asked the following, he said:
What if it was effortless to capture these stories publicly from our
smartphones? What if it was possible to publish them instantly to the
web without having to do any setup? And what if it was accessible to
anyone in our community. So, not just the people we know—there are
excellent tools for connecting content to people we know. But
connecting content to people we know and to people we don’t know but
who share a particular interest. That’s what we’re trying to do with
It sounds like a super-lightweight content management system, aimed at
amateur journalists or anyone else who wants to live-blog a news event
or report a news story in a way that has a chance to reach a broad
audience. Examples from the presentation included “extraordinary
volunteers,” “high school sports,” “weather events,” “civic meetings,”
and “social justice,” among others. An app screenshot on the Google
Bulletin site shows a post with the headline, “Winter storm floods
river, wipes out Nelson Road.”
Morehead said the company will work with local news organizations to
help them find and potentially publish some of those stories, giving
credit to their authors. The author controls the content and can take
it down anytime they want.
It’s hard to say without more information how useful this will prove.
But it’s part of a trend of the big tech platforms beginning to look
at how they can help to repair the news economy that they disrupted.
Facebook this week began testing in Olympia, Washington, a local news
and events page that highlights stories from local media.
There’s been a lot of hype over the years about how tools such as
Twitter and Facebook mean that anyone can be a journalist. But
Google’s tool could make that more of a reality than a myth. It’s true
that social media posts can go viral, but that’s usually when they
have national or global appeal of some sort. Google appears to be
looking for a way to help people publicize worthwhile stories of more
modest, local interest, which has not been one of social media’s
strong suits. There are also, of course, some risks involved in
promoting amateur news reporting. The potential for misinformation is
probably higher when the reporters lack professional credentials or a
news organization to verify and stand behind their work. It’s unclear
what kind of editing, if any, will be a part of the undertaking.
It’s easy to see the need for such a tool, however. For people without
a large following, even a newsworthy tweet or YouTube video can fall
flat. Just look at Sami Cone, who as far as I can tell had the world
exclusive on the launch of Google Bulletin. At the time that I wrote
this, her tweets about it had garnered just one like; her YouTube
video, 11 views.
*Update, Jan. 26, 2018, at 12:10 p.m.: This post was updated to add
confirmation and comment from Google.
*Correction, Jan. 26, 2018, at 12:10 p.m.: This post originally
misspelled Stefan Constantinescu’s last name.
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