Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tribune Escalates Dispute with Google over Old United Article

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tribune Escalates Dispute with Google over Old United Article

Article excerpt

Tribune Co. is blaming the circulation of a six-year-old article that briefly triggered a Wall Street panic squarely on Google's search technology.

Google's automated search agent, Googlebot, is simply unable "to differentiate between breaking news and frequently viewed stories on the websites of its newspapers," Tribune said.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Tribune issued its third, and most detailed yet, explanation of how an old Chicago Tribune story archived in the Web site of the sibling South Florida Sun Sentinel managed to get picked up as new news, and trigger a frantic sell-off of United Airlines stock that sent shares plunged by more than 70% in the first half-hour of trading. Trading was halted in United, and the stock returned to normal levels after the market realized the Tribune article had been reporting not on any current plans to file bankruptcy, but the Airline's Chapter 11 reorganization six years ago.

This time around, Tribune said Google's automated news collection not only confused old news for new -- but did so despite warnings "months ago" by Tribune to stop crawling its newspaper Web sites.

Specifically, Tribune asserts the Dec. 2002 article that caused all the trouble for United Airlines stock last Monday was accessed from the archives of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel by a single user looking up stories about airline cancellation policies late on Saturday night. The user accessed the bankruptcy story.

At such a time of light use of the newspaper site, that single hit made the six-year-old article one of the "most viewed" items by default.

That would have been that, Tribune said, if Googlebot had not swooped in 52 seconds later, and crawled the story. "Shortly thereafter," Tribune said, "Google provided a link to the old story on Google News and dated it September 6, 2008. Google's dating the story on Google News made it appear current to Google News users."

Tribune added it had "identified problems with Googlebot months ago and asked Google to stop using Googlebot to crawl newspaper websites, including the Sun Sentinel for inclusion in Google News," but the search agent continued to crawl the Fort Lauderdale paper.

"Despite the company's earlier request and the confusion caused by Googlebot and Google News earlier this week, we believe that Googlebot continues to misclassify stories," Tribune said.

A Google spokesperson in a statement said, "The claim that the Tribune Company asked Google to stop crawling its newspaper Web sites is untrue. …

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