VCU professor helps develop positive news feature for Google

Google partners with VCU professor to create Google Assistant feature
Updated: Sep. 3, 2018 at 9:54 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Google is working to change the way people consume news, and a Virginia Commonwealth University professor is at the center of the new concept.

A Google Assistant featured centered on conflict-free content launched at the end of August as a way to combat news fatigue. It's activated by saying, "Hey Google, tell me something good."

Dr. Karen McIntyre, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at VCU, curated the concept after being approached by Google Creative Labs in October 2017.

"Google had independently thought about the fact that the news makes a lot of us feel depressed," McIntyre said. "Google decided they wanted to do something about it."

Google asked McIntyre, whose expertise is in constructive and solution-based journalism, to collaborate and help create the feature. They had found McIntyre's work during online research.

"I study, broadly, the psychological affects of news. More specifically, I focus on constructive journalism or solution-oriented journalism, which can be thought of as news that often times draws techniques from the field of positive psychology," McIntyre said. "To create stories that are more productive, more forward looking, more solution-focused."

Constructive and solution-based journalism involves stories that are important and appeal to the core functions of journalism, all the while offering the reader or viewer a perspective on how to change or help change the issue at hand. McIntyre said this is the type of news she and Google wanted to show on this new feature.

"Constructive or solutions journalism is not fluffy positive good news," McIntyre said. "We're not talking about cute animal videos. These are important stories, rigorously reported about topics that have wide spread social significance. But they are different in the sense that they are not focused on conflict and negativity. That's how much of the news is today, and that can cause people to disengage."

Over the course of 10 months, Google and McIntyre researched, created and conducted an experiment to see what impact the feature would have on readers.

McIntyre said Google made the feature available to certain Google employees who were given a survey before using it and were able to use the feature for two weeks at their own discretion.

At the end of the experiment, the employees were given another survey. McIntyre said she was looking for specific behavioral and attitude changes from the employees, and said she saw meaningful results.

"Those who used it felt significantly more positive than those who didn't use it when reading the news in general," McIntyre said. "This is important because it shows when you incorporate solutions journalism into your daily media diet, that can mitigate some of the negative affects."

The feature is available for Google users across the U.S. Right now, the stories shared are from Solutions Journalism Network, an independent nonprofit database. McIntyre hopes the feature will grow enough in popularity that Google will have to use an algorithm to pull important, positive stories.

McIntyre also recently received a Fulbright Association fellowship and is heading to Rwanda next week for 10 months.

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