Google is apparently experimenting with a new Google News feature, which may or may not become widely available (hence the "experiment" label). The feature is called Editors’ Picks, and it’s being displayed for a small subset of Google News users.
At Google, we run anywhere from 50 to 200 experiments at any given time on our websites all over the world. Right now, we are running a very small experiment in Google News called Editors’ Picks. For this limited test, we’re allowing a small set of publishers to promote their original news articles through the Editors’ Picks section.
Google often puts its experiments in Google Labs, as it did with Google Fast Flip, another Google News feature that lets you read publications in a magazine-like format (now featured in Google News itself), but Editor’s Picks is not part of that (yet anyway).
Another recent experiment of Google’s, however, which it tested with various subsets of users was the new search results interface, which became widely available. That took quite a while, and if this new feature is to graduate from experiment status and become a full-fledged feature of Google News, I would imagine that a lot of details would need to be inked out first.
Garber explains just how Editor’s Picks works (you can view screenshots in her article): "Editors’ Picks also does what its name suggests: it allows editors to choose which stories they introduce to the Google News audience (Google confirmed to me the links on display aren’t being paid for by the news publishers — that is, it’s not a sponsored section.). Publishers can choose to promote stories that have done well, traffic-wise, amplifying that success — or they can choose to promote stories that have gotten less traction. Or they can simply choose to promote stories that are funny or important or touching or all of the above — stories that are simply worth reading. The point is, they can choose."
I’d go a step further and suggest that any publisher who breaks a story, only to have many other publications publish their own version (such as happened to Danny Sullivan recently) could promote their original story to give it a bit more prominence (and visibility).
It’s unclear whether any publication that Google News indexes would be able to participate in Editors’ picks, or just a select few of Google’s choosing, but either way, it stands to be an attractive offering for the publishers who can use it. Of course, given the fact this is only an experiment, we don’t even know if this will ever actually be a mainstream feature of Google News, and Google is unlikely to give many details about it unless it does become more than an experiment.
Update: Matt McGee also finds that Google is testing a new design for Google News.
Update 2: Barry Schwartz also points out that Google appears to have dropped the "web search" button from Google News.