Where's the environment section on Google News?

Jake Turcotte and Eoin O'Carroll

Visit Google News's home page and you'll see lots of important stories: elections in India, armed conflict in Pakistan, and the US debate over torture, to name just a few.

You'll also see lots of stories on matters less pressing: speculation on the outcome of a reality television show, detailed analysis of a person's ability to hit a ball with a stick, and the latest missive on the ongoing saga over whether someone deserved to have won a beauty contest last year.

Fair enough. But what if you wanted to learn about Mexico's proposal for a world climate change fund, the delisting of the North American gray wolf, or the blockade by activists of one of Peru's largest gold mines? Time to break out the spelunking gear, because you're not likely to find these stories anywhere near the surface.

Part of the reason for this is that Google News's Sci/Tech section often tends to be more tech than sci. Online publications like TechCrunch, TechSpot, Techmeme, DailyTech, and TechNewsWorld, to name a few, are constantly cranking out stories about the latest iPhone apps, Facebook privacy changes, OS updates, Gmail outages, Twitter fails, and so on, to the point where software and gadget stories tend to crowd out scientific discoveries.

To be sure, people are legitimately interested in consumer tech news, just they are in sports and entertainment news. But at least sports and entertainment get their own sections, which allows them to keep out of everyone else's way.

And in any case, environmental news has always been more than just science. It's a topic that also encompasses politics, business culture, health – just about everything. The subject's catholicity makes it nearly impossible to bring up a Google News page of current environment stories, as you can do with Yahoo! News.

As Erick Schonfeld of - ahem - TechCrunch pointed out last month, Google doesn't really control the news. Mr. Schonfeld notes that Google News's monthly traffic – 16.2 million unique visitors in February – is just over a third of that of Yahoo! News and of all the sites owned by the New York Times. MSNBC, CNN and AOL News have more visitors as well.

But 16.2 million uniques is still a huge number. It's bigger than what each of the websites for Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC get, and it's way bigger than what any single newspaper draws in. Even if it's not the biggest site in town, Google News wields way more influence than most over what people are reading about.

And regardless of where you stand on matters of energy, climate change, wildlife, population, and pollution, it's hard not to recognize that humanity's interaction with the Earth's natural processes is fast becoming a defining issue of our age.

Google knows this. The company's philanthropy arm, Google.org, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy initiatives, plug-in electric vehicles, and real-time monitoring of home electricity use. Google's energy team has drafted an ambitious proposal for drastic cuts in US fossil fuel consumption. And the company offers biodiesel shuttles for its workers and serves organic food in its cafeterias.

For a company that pays that much attention to the environment, it seems strange not to recognize it as its own separate news topic.

At this point you should be sniffing some conflict of interest here. And you'd be right. On the rare occasions when a post from this blog makes it up on Google News's home page, it's usually accompanied by a spike in traffic and an increased sense of job security. A Google News environment section would probably make those occasions less rare. And it would also make it a little easier to come up with ideas for posts in the first place.

But so what? If there's anything that journalists should be allowed to voice an opinion on, it's about what counts as important news. If an environment blogger won't point out his topic isn't getting enough attention, who will?

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