The Web has long been great for getting the latest news, but finding older news has always been a crapshoot. Today Google addressed this problem, in part, by releasing Google News Archive Search.
Google has partnered with several news organizations, including The New York Times and the Washington Post, and aggregators including LexisNexis, to index the full content of news stories going back at least 60 years.
The archive interface shows a timeline that sorts articles by decade, which makes the service great for following how an event unfolds.
While News Archive Search will be helpful to Google's partners as they try to draw traffic to their archives, don't expect it to replace a true archive search tool like LexisNexis. The results returned are often incomplete.
For example, I searched for "Iraq War" and found the results span 1987-88 but then skip up to 2003.
Google News Archive Search may also serve to draw attention to a problem covered by Robert Niles in the Online Journalism Review earlier this year.
In his article Search and You'll Find...Old News?, Niles says that newspapers are undermining their own Web efforts by hewing to a print-based publishing model in which new stories are added atop each other, each rarely being updated or revisited. The result: Search results lead to outdated pages that, while they have the most inbound links, are no longer relevant. If you visit much of the pages returned in News Archive Search, the don't point to the rest of the news in context. Searchers have to return to Google News Archive Search to make their way through history. Great for Google, bad for newspapers.
For example, this article in the Washington Post is great for a historical snapshot. Bravo to Google News Archive for leading me here. But the Post would do itself a service by linking it to more current news. Perhaps a wiki covering the Iraq War, as Niles suggests, would be a good way for the Post to offer its readers contextual assistance. Link all Iraq War articles to that wiki and voila, instant context.
Of course, updating a publication's backend isn't as simple as all that. But online publications need to start publishing not only for the live Web, but also the deep and archival Web. Partnering with Google is a good step in the right direction.
p.s. I still believe Google News could learn a thing or two from Techmeme.