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Weighing the benefit of Google's European news innovation fund

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Weighing the benefit of Google's European news innovation fund

The search engine announced last week it would create a 150 million Euro fund to be spent over the next three years. 

Madhav Chinnappa, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Google says that the initiative will allow news organisations to develop funding models that work. “While everyone recognises the opportunities the internet offers for the creation and dissemination of journalism, new opportunities for growth remain elusive,” Chinnappa says.  “When we talk to publishers in Europe I hear deep concern about their ongoing ability to fund great journalism.”

Eight publications have signed up to the initiative as founding partners. They include The Financial Times (UK), the Guardian (UK), La Stampa (Italy), Les Echos (France), Die Zeit (Germany), El País (Spain) and NRC Media (Netherlands). In addition to the eight foundation partners, several other key German and Swiss publications have joined the initiative according to Telecom Paper, including Der Spiegel, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Tagesspiegel.  

International Director of Guardian News and Media Tony Danker says the initiative is a positive development. “I think there's an enormous amount of potential here,” he says. The initiative will also fund research conducted out of the Reuters Institute at Oxford University and will establish a product council made up of publishers.

Danker says that the resources that Google has was one of the reasons Guardian became involved in the initiative. “For me, the real value in the initiative is that Google has committed some of its top engineering talent to developing the digital news industry.”

Vincent Peyrègne, CEO of WAN-IFRA welcomes the initiative. “Google is a major contributor to the digital ecosystem,” he says. “News organisations shared this ecosystem, it would be counterproductive to swing against the tide.”

However Peyrègne says that further clarification is needed on Google’s role in the partnership. “The project needs clarification about its governance, the composition of the advisory Council in charge of its strategic guidance, and funding allocation, the need to respect the independence of the recipients, and fence the innovation funding against any political considerations.”

The news comes as the European Commission investigates allegedly anti-competitive search practises by Google. Some have viewed the search engine’s move to develop this initiative as a way of placating a hostile European publishing landscape. However, Danker rejects these claims.

“European regulators will continue their investigations of Google regardless - this is about building a sustainable news ecosystem,” Danker says. “I don’t believe European Commissioners will alter their course because of this initiative and I’d be amazed if anyone at Google thought that either.”

Reactions to the news have been mixed. “The growing pact between large publishers of news and large platforms for social media is an alliance born out of desperation on the part of publishers and opportunity on the part of technology companies,” Emily Bell wrote last week for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Bell writes that the move is a significant shift in the relationship between tech companies and publishing companies in Europe. “Google needs more friends in Europe, but not as badly as legacy news organizations need help in navigating a present and a future they are still ill-equipped to face,” she writes.

The search engine has faced resistance in Europe and South America in recent months. Major publishers in Europe have cautioned interactions with Google, such as the open letter written by chief executive of Axel Springer Mathias Dopfner last year. 

“Google’s employees are always extremely friendly to us and to other publishing houses, but we are not communicating with each other on equal terms,” Dopfner writes.  “How could we? Google doesn’t need us. But we need Google.”

Danker from the Guardian is cognisant of these monopoly concerns. “For us it is entirely possible and indeed important to both retain concerns about market dominance and seek to work on the issues DNI will tackle,” he says.



Angelique Lu


2015-05-05 15:09

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