In August of 2019, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp announced that it was developing Knwez, its own “conservative friendly” alternative to Google News. Knewz went live without much fanfare in January of 2020, and officially died today, less than eighteen months later.
What was Knewz?
Knewz described itself as “an innovative service designed to let you consume news from a wide variety of sources, free of the bias bubbles and vacuous verticals that frustrate so many discerning readers and thoughtful publishers.” The service was operated by News Corp, the Murdoch-owned company behind Fox News, the New York Post, the Sun, and the Wall Street Journal.
In practice, Knewz was a news aggregator, somewhat similar to Google News. It used AI algorithms to scrape content from hundreds of news sources, with human editors to “highlight a selection of headlines that provide a broad perspective.” The site’s design was particularly garish, with construction-project-yellow headers, an inconsistently sized tile layout, and frequent use of boldface, underlining, and italics in the same headline.
Why was Knewz?
The true raison d’etre behind the News Corp owned competitor to Google News may be more difficult to pin down. Although Knewz touted itself as a way to “escape bias bubbles,” a 2020 independent examination from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism suggests otherwise.
According to Tow, the New York Post had the most links on Knewz’ landing page seventeen times in February/March 2020. This record was followed by Fox News at ten times—with the Daily Mail trailing at twice, and NBC News and the New York Times tying for last at once each.
On Knewz’ politics page, the conservative slant was even more apparent, with links to Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, and Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller appearing more frequently than links to News Corp’s own Wall Street Journal.
In addition to providing a conservative-friendly feed, the site likely was intended to put pressure on Google to pay News Corp for use of the headlines at Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and other outlets. The “pressure Google” theory is particularly likely, given that outlets owned by News Corp itself tended to make note of it.
The Wall Street Journal said that News Corp “has complained [Google News] doesn’t adequately recompense publishers” in its coverage of Knewz’s launch, and repeated the observation again in its coverage today of the service’s death.
Why shutter Knewz now?
The farewell message at knewz.com today simply says, “We certainly had provenance, but no profits,” and offers a selection of links to “some of the world’s most trusted news sites”—all of which are News Corp-owned outlets—including (bizarrely) realtor.com and mansionglobal.com. But there may have been another key factor in the timing of Knewz’ closure.
In February 2021, News Corp reached an agreement with Google in which the search giant would provide “significant payments” to continue sourcing headlines from News Corp owned outlets including Fox News, the New York Post, the Sun, and the Wall Street Journal.
With a financial agreement with Google locked down and operational, the Murdoch-owned site may have simply outlived its most important purpose.