9.11.2008

The Perils of Regurgitated News

Tribune Co. said a glitch that temporarily crushed UAL Corp. shares Monday was caused by a single Web hit on an old story on one of its newspaper's Web sites.

Tribune on Wednesday blamed Google Inc.'s automated news collection for misreading the archived story about UAL's 2002 bankruptcy-court filing as fresh news.

Tribune's explanation is a further effort to shift blame for the recirculation of the story, which sparked a chain of events that shaved off about three-quarters of UAL's market value in 15 minutes of trading.

Tribune has offered details of the incident in pieces since Monday. In its latest explanation, Tribune said a single visit during a low-traffic period early Sunday morning pushed the undated story onto the list of most popular business news of its South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper's Web site.

About 30 minutes after that visit, a user viewing a story about airline-cancellation policies during a storm-ravaged weekend clicked on the link for the old story. Seconds later, Google's automated search agent, Googlebot, visited the Web site and found the story.

Soon after that, the story became available through Google News, and by Monday the article became more widely distributed to users of Bloomberg LP, the financial-news service widely watched on Wall Street.

Tribune said it previously had identified problems with Google's automated search service and had asked Google to stop trolling Tribune Web sites for inclusion in Google News.

"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.

Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said in a statement: "The claim that the Tribune Company asked Google to stop crawling its newspaper Web sites is untrue."

Good thing I don't post old articles about anything worth a hoot...

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