Google launches controversial News Initiative designed to boost subscriptions and combat disinformation

Google news megaphone
Google’s News Initiative plans announced this week were met with the standard mix of cynicism and optimism

Holly and Garry: Google is a media Goliath that stole our advertisers and pushed our very profession to the precipice of financial collapse. This is the view of many if not most of our colleagues in the news business.

We see Google aggregating content produced by real journalists — without the costs of employing editors and reporters — while sucking up all the ads that used to subsidize newsgathering and delivery back in the 20th century.

Now, as Facebook reels in the news, Google is launching a $300 million news initiative, cleverly headlined here: “Google to News: Can we be friends?”

Google says its News Initiative is focused on three goals:

  • strengthening quality journalism.
  • supporting sustainable business models.
  • empowering newsrooms through technological innovation.

In addition, $10 million will fund news literacy projects like MediaWise, which will be facilitated by The Poynter Institute.

Our hearts just skipped a beat. We have argued in this blog that quality, digital journalism is expensive to produce. Quality content has value. We are encouraged by research that shows members of the audience are increasingly willing to pay for news content if it’s proprietary and personalized.

Amol Rajan of the BBC asked Richard Gingras, head of Google News, whether he believed in the idea that information should be free. His response is encouraging for those of us in the education field who are sending journalism graduates into a fragile field:

“His instinctive answer was no. He said Google believes it should be accessible, but they accepted that investigative reporting, for instance, needed to be well funded,” Rajan wrote.

Industry experts and scholars like Jay Rosen, Dan Gillmor and Rosental Alves lauded the expansive project:

But others were not so charitable.

“If Google and Facebook really wanted to help publications, they would start writing them real, substantial, shore-up-the-business-sized checks, presented as either a please-stop-yelling-about-us handout, or a “carriage fee,” which amounts to the same thing,” wrote Peter Kafka, senior editor, media of Recode.

But we’re thinking that $300 million is something that a profession with a broken business model probably shouldn’t turn down.

What do you think?

Among the facets of the intiative:

  • SUBSCRIBE WITH GOOGLE: Digital news subscriptions in collaboration with 60 news orgs. Data will remain property of the publishers – this is important – and Google will take a “small” revenue share. Also important – no one knows how much.
  • OUTLINE: Google will provide a private encrypted communications tool via VPN for journalists. This is pretty huge.
  • MEDIAWISE: Google funds a $3 million project with The Poynter Institute to help teach teens how to decipher facts from fiction. YA author John Green is among the facilitators.
  • DISINFO LAB:  set up with the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, designed to combat mis- and disinformation during elections and breaking news moments.

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