Google has announced it will dedicate about one day’s worth of its revenue to help turn around the fortunes of the news media.

Overnight in New York, the web giant announced US$300 million over the next three and a half years, under what it’s calling the Google News Initiative — an umbrella for a series of projects it says will help news outlets to drive subscriptions, be more efficient, combat fake news, and increase media literacy.

In 2017, Google’s parent company Alphabet reported $95.8 billion in revenue — about $262 million a day. Total revenue was about $305 million a day.

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One of the greatest PR battles Google is trying to win with the announcement is that, as part of the digital duopoly (alongside Facebook) responsible for taking the vast majority of online ad revenue, at news organisations’ expense, it is trying to help news organisations stay afloat. Google and Facebook are currently subject of an inquiry by the ACCC into their impact on competition in media and advertising.

In a press briefing yesterday, Google News vice president Richard Gingras said such inquiries were important to look at the issues facing the news industry, and said it was in Google’s interest for there to be a healthy media.

“Our motivations are several-fold,” he said. “Certainly from a societal perspective do we think it is important for quality journalism to be as robust as possible, absolutely. But if you also look at the nature of our company, we succeed when the open environment of the web succeeds. So this is, as well, a big part of our motivation.”

Among the projects and initiatives announced, Google will introduce a new subscriber feature, which will allow users to subscribe to partner publications using their established Google profiles. News searches would then bring up a component showing relevant results from publications the user is already subscribed to. This project will also include research and analytics for publishers on how to increase their subscriber numbers.

Another project will be an investment in its Google News Lab, including one in Australia, where Google will work with publishers in training staff, and developing partnerships with outlets. 

And, in response to the spread of fake news, a disinformation lab will be launched and based at Harvard, to “combat mis- and disinformation during political cycles”. In the announcement, Google said it would employ computational journalists who will monitor the issue during elections. It will also launch a $10 million media literacy campaign, including a project called MediaWise in the US to teach teenagers about real and fake news.

Google is also working on tools for news outlets to help them be more efficient — it will start providing its G Suite developer platforms for free to small and medium-sized outlets, and is trialling a citizen journalist platform called Bulletin, where users upload content that news outlets can use for free.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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