Online News: Google News Adds Comments; Hooks Up With Freakonomics Blog

This week Google News (Nasdaq: GOOG) took another step away from its original algorithm-centric mission by offering news subjects the option of posting comments about articles in which they or their organizations appear — and to feature them prominently with the articles in its U.S. version. The comments run unedited but marked as comments so, as the Google News Blog explains, readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report. The Google News team explains: “We’re hoping that by adding this feature, we can help enhance the news experience for readers, testing the hypothesis that — whether they’re penguin researchers or presidential candidates– a personal view can sometimes add a whole new dimension to the story.”

With the step, Google News moves beyond content aggregation to content creation and to intermediation as it verifies identities for commenters. Using its first mission as a guide, the engineers would have found an algorithm to pick up comments posted to the media outlets or other locations and included them. Instead, the team is seeking comments directly from participants . But Google still insists it’s not trying to be a news organization. Josh Cohen, business product manager for Google News, told the WSJ: “We’re not creating it, we’re not reporting it, we’re not editing it. We see it more as a corollary to what’s being done out there.” He doesn’t seem to understand that what they are doing is creation. (” title=”Dave Winer suggests”>Dave Winer suggests that Google just buy Technorati and integrate it.)

Looking at it a different way, it’s another step in opening the process beyond letters to the editor. Many news organizations already encourage comments on story pages or in other areas on their sites — and many news subjects already write their own blogs or use other online venues to get their points across.

The effort also has reawakened frustration over the way Google News blocks its own site from being crawled. The best-selling authors of Freakonimics have had significant ties to the NYT (NYSE: NYT) all along — the book grew out of Stephen Dubner’s NYT Magazine profile of economics professor Steven D. Levitt and the pair writes a Freakonomics column for the magazine. Now, that relationship includes the pair’s popular blog, started in 2005 to promote the book and keep the conversation going. As of Wednesday, redirects to a dedicated space in the Online Opinion section and has its own editor, Melissa Lafsky (hired away from Huffington Post). The expanded operation includes multimedia, user-gen contributions, etc. For the NYT, it’s part of a strategy to expand online content through alliances and acquisitions.

Update: The Times confirms it did not acquire the Freakonomics blog, which puts this one on the alliance category.