When Ipsos Mori recently released figures listing the most-viewed news websites in the United Kingdom, there was a strange newcomer included among the usual suspects.
In a league table topped by Mail Online, followed by the websites of The Sun and The Guardian, a fledgling service called Newzit stood out as an oddity among the long-established national newspaper brands. With monthly traffic of more than 54m page views, it ranked just ahead of The Times, which is admittedly behind a paywall.
Newzit, a website and an app, has “come out of nowhere”, declared Press Gazette, a media industry title. To visit this site is to discover something akin to the traditional newsstand, in a supermarket or petrol station forecourt, where all the rival British news titles are featured side-by-side. But in this digital version, which offers click-through live versions of the various home pages, the news is constantly updated.
Newzit selects the 60 most-read stories of the moment and typically offers eight versions of them, so readers can compare, say, The Independent’s take on a climate story with that of The Telegraph. Paywalled news sites are marked with an orange tag.
A ticker running across the top of Newzit lists the 30 “most searched for right now” individuals. Politicians Boris Johnson and Priti Patel appeared last week alongside Kim Kardashian and Emma Raducanu. This feature gives the site a celebrity news feel; clicking on a name uncovers dozens of the latest stories on that person, from multiple news sources.
Newzit is a 2021 version of one of the oldest ideas in the history of the consumer internet: news aggregation. It first emerged in the mid-1990s, most obviously in the form of The Drudge Report, which, though now in decline, remains popular with millions for its curt headlines linking to its favourite stories of the moment.
Many news aggregators have followed from the Pocket bookmarking app to NewsNow, a British site that launched in 1997 and has expanded to offer over 13,000 sources. But nothing compares with the biggest aggregator of all, Google News, which emerged in 2002.
For two decades the news industry has become increasingly dependent on Google, which has nearly 90 per cent of the search market in the UK and takes 40 per cent of all digital ad spend. Relations between news publishers and the Silicon Valley giant are often fractious.
And that is a clue to the origins of Newzit, a creation of the publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail Online. (Those titles are owned by dmg media, the group which also owns i, New Scientist and Metro – where i has complete editorial independence.)
In April, the Mail’s publishers launched an anti-trust suit against Google in New York, claiming that the Internet giant was involved in anti-competitive behaviour, including alleged manipulation of news search results. In August, Google blocked ads from Piers Morgan’s MailOnline column after “racist comments” appeared under an article he wrote about the gymnast Simone Biles.
Back in 2019 Mail Online claimed that a change in Google’s algorithm had led to a halving of its traffic from the search engine. Although the Mail was assured by Google that it had not been targeted, trust was damaged.
“The genesis of Newzit was a couple of years ago we were [angry] with Google constantly dicking us around on the algorithm,” says one source. “The [Google] algorithm is weighted to make value judgments and it favours some titles massively over others. We thought to ourselves: ‘How hard can it be to do a news search site?’”
Newzit appeared in beta format in December 2019 and has been growing ever since. Its own algorithm is based on data scraped from 2,000 English-language news websites.
Based at the Mail’s headquarters in London, it is still in experimental mode but costs little to produce and is already making “a nice tidy profit”. It has branded itself the “new and unbiased search and aggregation tool for bonafide news sites only” and claims to be “ideologically balanced and blind”.
Much of Newzit’s traffic comes via promotion on Mail Online, which could provoke suspicion among those who dislike that news brand’s editorial outlook, not to mention the Mail’s commercial rivals. But Reach, publisher of the Mirror and the Express, has been supporting Newzit for the past month. None of the titles on the aggregator have complained about the use of their content. They presumably welcome the traffic it brings.
News aggregators are a product of the 20th Century web but the arrival of social media has created echo chambers that can limit our news consumption to views that accord with our own. Newzit won’t threaten Google’s profits but, as a service that exposes readers to a multiplicity of outlooks from different professional sources, it seems to be of its time