Google's News tab suddenly disappeared for many users this week, a Thursday Nieman Labs report revealed, sparking a fresh round of existential dread in the journalism industry.

Between new rounds of mass layoffs and worrisome AI search integrations, the media is already riddled with deep anxieties about its future in a changing digital environment. In other words, it felt like Google was kicking the journalism industry while it was down — by first making itself an unavoidable source of readership and then suddenly rescinding that visibility at the exact moment that it hurts the most.

In an emailed statement, a Google spokesperson told Futurism that the search giant does "not have plans to remove" the News tab. The spokesperson cryptically chalked the tab's disappearance up to an "effort to better understand the preferences of our users," which involved "testing different ways to show filters on Search."

As a result, they continued, a "small subset of users were temporarily unable to access some of them."

Even so, the reaction to the tab's brief disappearance seemingly highlights the fast-bubbling tensions between publishers and search companies, as platforms like Google and Bing — not to mention new and very well-funded AI search startups like the Perplexity "answer engine" — threaten the digital media industry's largely traffic-based business model with new text-generating AI search functions. Throw massive industry layoffs and degrading, AI-scrambled search results into the mix, and it's safe to say that a missing News tab isn't exactly settling the journalism world's stomach.

According to the Nieman's Sarah Scire, the News tab seemingly started vanishing on Wednesday and continued its disappearing act through Thursday, prompting a range of confused — and in some cases deeply annoyed — responses from apparent test subjects.

"Anyone else seeing the News tab completely gone from Google search results?" Meta's Tom Gara tweeted mid-morning on Thursday. "Maybe I'm part of a test group or something."

"I've been in the 'no News tab' Google test group," CBS News social media director Brandon Wall added later that day, "and I do NOT like."

Again, Google is maintaining that there are no plans to eliminate its News function. (It also noted in its statement that the feature should now be back online for all Search users.) And to that end, it's hard to imagine that they'd do away with the News filter during a fast-barrelling and hugely consequential election cycle.

Still, there's a general sense that Google's stewardship of its News products has left much to be desired as its platforms promote garbage clickbait and even AI-plagiarized material. It's easy to wonder: could Google be looking to get out of the news business entirely?

And in a bigger sense, AI search integrations have pushed the oft-trepidatious relationship between publishers and search engines into a new realm of uncertainty — especially considering that to power these AI integrations, search companies will continue to rely on the work of journalists, who may or may not receive fair compensation as their work is guzzled up and paraphrased by AI models. And when you backdrop these controversial AI efforts with the overall eroding quality of the platforms and broader industry woes, you have a perfect recipe for escalating distrust.

The vibes, as they say, are way off.

More on Big Tech and journalism: Former Google News Director Admits Big Tech Is Killing Journalism

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