The Media Today

The media today: Google offers news business a $300 million olive branch

March 21, 2018

As some media companies question their commitment to Facebook, in the wake of changes to the News Feed and what some see as lackluster revenue from the platform, Google appears to be making a concerted effort to replace the social network as the news media’s best friend. On Tuesday, it announced the Google News Initiative at an event held in New York City. The new venture involves a range of different projects the company says are designed to help support media companies and quality journalism, and it comes with a commitment from Google to spend a total of $300 million over the next three years.

The new entity is similar in name to the Digital News Initiative, which Google set up in 2015 to help European publishers figure out how to become more web savvy. That venture included a $150 million fund that anyone could apply to access. It has financed research (including the annual Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute) but mostly gives out grants every year to journalists and media companies to fund digital projects. The Digital News Initiative now becomes part of the new, broader project Google announced yesterday.

Google says on a new site that the News Initiative is aimed at “building a stronger future for journalism,” and that the company wants to “work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age.” Parts of that effort—including training for newsrooms, or partnerships with organizations like First Draft and the Local Media Consortium—have been underway for some time, either as part of the Digital News Initiative or Google’s News Lab, which helps media companies do research and develop prototypes for new products.

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But Tuesday’s announcement did include some new plans. There’s the expansion of a pilot project called Subscribe With Google, in which Google partners with publishers to make it easier for users to sign up and log into news sites. As reported before the announcement by Bloomberg, Google will also highlight content from outlets that users pay for when they do a search, and will share data that could help publishers figure out how to boost subscription revenue. Google also announced a new tool called Outline, which will allow media companies to create VPNs (virtual private networks) for their journalists, and said it plans to spend $10 million on a media literacy project through its nonprofit arm.

Here’s more on Google and its relationship with the media:

  • A Disinfo Lab: Google is helping launch a lab based at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, in partnership with First Draft, where journalists will monitor disinformation in advance of and during elections around the world. And starting on April 2 (which is International Fact-Checking Day), Google says it will offer more than 20,000 students advanced training on how to distinguish misinformation online, through a partnership with the International Fact Check Network.
  • News Lab changes: As part of the new project, the Google News Lab is expanding its efforts, according to a post from head Steve Grove. It is adding full-time staff in Australia and Argentina (the lab already has employees in 13 other countries), hiring new Teaching Fellows and expanding its News Lab Fellowships program, which funds the hiring of journalists by newsrooms. But the News Lab’s previously standalone website has been absorbed into the broader GNI site.
  • More search fixes: In addition to all of the new announcements about funding, Google’s VP of news Richard Gingras also said the company is rolling out tweaks to its algorithm in order to “put more emphasis on authoritative results over factors like freshness or relevancy.” How exactly it defines the term “authoritative” is unclear, but Google is probably hoping it will stop conspiracy theories from turning up in YouTube results after school shootings.
  • Sour grapes? Amid all the good news about the things it wants to do for media outlets, Google is still getting criticism about its desire for control in some of the things it already does, including the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project. Although it is an open-source effort and Google says anyone can add to it, some complain that AMP, as designed, gives the web giant too much of a say in the process.
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Other notable stories:

  • Many journalists mourned the loss of Les Payne, who died unexpectedly at his home in Harlem on Tuesday, according to his family. The 76-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor at Newsday founded the National Association of Black Journalists, and had a journalism career that spanned almost four decades. The New York Times Magazine’s Nikole Hannah-Jones called him “a fearless trailblazer, a door opener, and a fierce champion for black & brown journalists.”
  • The fallout from the Cambridge Analytica affair continues to roil Facebook, and could lead to sanctions against the company, whose stock price has already dropped. So far, however, there has been radio silence from co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. According to a report from The Daily Beast, the company held a Q&A with staff about the incident, but Zuckerberg didn’t show.
  • Speaking of Cambridge Analytica, CJR spoke with NYC professor David Carroll about the lawsuit he launched in Britain to force the company to give him all the data it has on him. Carroll filed the claim under the UK’s Data Protection Act.
  • Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Donald Trump, is suing the publisher of the National Enquirer, trying to force the company to release her from a legal agreement she signed in 2016 that barred her from talking about the affair. Adult entertainment star Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels, is also trying to break a similar agreement she signed that required her to remain silent about the affair she claims to have had with Trump.
  • The TV news program 60 Minutes is under fire for what some see as an overly friendly segment on Mohammed bin Salman, the new ruler of Saudi Arabia. The Intercept said the piece, which praised bin Salman for cracking down on corruption but never mentioned allegations of torture or other criticisms, was “more of an infomercial for the Saudi regime than a serious or hard-hitting interview.” CJR writer Jon Allsop wrote recently about the challenges of reporting on Saudi Arabia.

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Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.