In 13 headlines about the Google robot car, 3 lessons on how to better re-report the story that everyone has

If the collective online coverage of Google’s self-driving car was a trip, it would be a bit like a (self-driving?) bus meandering through its route: each stop is different, but they’re all kind of the same. Nonetheless, join me on a short journey to see how multiple outlets presented the same news, and what they might (or might not) have added.

But let me summarize what three things struck me as the most valuable additions to this bit of news that everyone knew:

  1. Personal, emotional and intellectual responses to the information and invitations to discuss it.
  2. Context and history.
  3. Directly related news (well, news that was old, but new to me).

If you want to continue this journey, let’s hop on this bus starting with Google’s official blog post: What we’re driving at. The emphasis here is on the big-picture reasons for the self-driving car: safety and the efficient use of time.

A short cruise later, and we’d land at Boing Boing’s short post that sends us elsewhere as rapidly as possible: Google, you can drive my car? Value-add: Links, brevity.

At the next jump-off, TechCrunch Ave., we’d have our first encounter with a pop culture reference in the form of a cheddar-dripping pic of Kit and Michael from Knight Rider, the television show: Google Has A Secret Fleet Of Automated Toyota Priuses; 140,000 Miles Logged So Far. This post also puts the story in the context of comments made by Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt (“Your car should drive itself.”) at a TechCrunch event. Value-add: context, humor.

Next, we bump into a fun duplication of cultural sensibilities as Knight Rider strikes again in this Venture Beat post: Google pulls an Asimov, announces self-driving cars smart enough to take on traffic. We need an alternative robot car TV show. I remember Airwolf .. no, no, that was a helicopter, and not even a self-flying one. Value-add: humor (if I made it to this post before the other Knight Rider one) and cultural reference.

And what is this tank of an article? In The New York Times’s piece, Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic, the defining feature is depth. Just about every angle on the story is covered: history, legalities, objectives, technology, anecdotes, safety, benefits, speculation about the device’s future. Value: thoroughness; this one serves as the raw materials for many other articles and blog posts ( blah blah blah, The New York Times reported).

Suddenly, we’re venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge, courtesy of an illustrative photo the BBC threw up with its article: Google tests cars that drive themselves. I felt the thrill of a puzzle when I tried to pick out the Google car amongst those on the span, but I gave up quickly when there was no indication the photo might actually contain such an image. Value: I don’t know. Highlighting a (seemingly unimportant) visual aspect of the story underplayed by others?

What’s this? Our journey is picking up! At 777th and Engadget, I learn something new: Google and TU Braunschweig independently develop self-driving cars (video). Someone else made a magic car? Last week?!?! Does no one care about Germany? Value: context and directly related news.

Cnet put up a dry story, though I did enjoy the imagery of autonomous cars getting aggressive: Robot cars invade California, on orders from Google. Value: visions of Priuses assaulting Mustangs on the way to the beach.

And who needs headlines when a full-up, stretching tentacle of a sentence does just fine? Reddit, in typical style, delivers a link that says it all: Google has been working on vehicles that can drive themselves using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver. Value: I’m done in 30 words.

Mashable: Google Is Testing Cars That Drive Themselves. This writing seemed the loosest and most playful, and it ended with a question to readers about the technology. Value: warm, fuzzy place to talk about the news. Only site I felt that at.

PCWorld (on Yahoo): Google’s Car of the Future. This one stood out for its opining upon the facts, and its reflecting upon what the story revealed about Google’s ethics and business practices.

The well-known Scobleizer: State of the art of self-driving cars on road today (Google, Ford, and Toyota). First-person reflection upon how he feels about the news. He’s excited. He’d pay for a better version of the technology. He speculates about the future in a personal way: “I’m fully certain that my sons will be driving fully automated cars and that makes me quite happy.” Value: I feel like I’m there, experiencing this news with him. It makes the news real, something that affects somebody.

This story, Google has robotic self driving cars that have already logged 140,000 miles of robotic driving, seemed a straight copy-and-paste, but it did alert me to a Forbes blog post exploring another angle to the story. Value: cool link.

Some other outlets developed additional angles on the story, such as how Google might make money off the vehicles; how people had posted videos of the Googlebuggies cruising around a year ago; and why the cars’ technology drives better than humans.

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