Google has never been flavor of the month with publishers, with one big-name media outlet calling it a platform for piracy. But the Internet giant has launched a new collaborative initiative today that it says will help “support high-quality journalism in Europe through technology and innovation.”
Speaking at a media-focused Financial Times conference in London today, Google’s president of strategic partnerships, Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, introduced the Digital News Initiative in partnership with a number of renowned publications, including the Guardian and the Financial Times (U.K.), El Pais (Spain), Les Echos (France), and Die Zeit and FAZ (both Germany).
The collaboration will operate across three areas:
Product development: A publishers’ working group will be formed to “explore product developments aimed at increasing revenue, traffic, and audience engagement,” said D’Asaro Biondo.
Training and research investment: Google’s new “News Lab” team will work to introduce more training resources to newsrooms. Google said it’s creating programs in conjunction with the European Journalism Centre, the Global Editors Network, and the International News Media Association, among other organizations.
Google’s also teaming up with the Reuters Institute in Oxford to “create the deepest and most comprehensive picture of how the consumption of news is evolving in Europe,” added D’Asaro Biondo.
There’s also a new grants program aimed at academic institutions, designed to help fund research into “computational journalism.”
“Innovation” investment: Over the next three years, Google says it will be investing 150 million euros ($163 million) to help support “innovation in digital journalism within the news industry in Europe.” It’s quite a broad scope, but will basically apply to anyone working in the digital news realm within Europe.
Referencing the “radical” changes taking place within the media industry, D’Asaro Biondo noted that while Google’s intentions thus far have been well-meaning, it has made some errors en route.
“I firmly believe that Google has always wanted to be a friend and partner to the news industry, but I also accept we’ve made some mistakes along the way,” he said. “We are a teenage ‘tech’ company after all.”
D’Asaro Biondo also added that he felt Google’s role in the news industry has “often been misunderstood” and “sometimes misreported.”
There are some 65,000 publishers signed up to Google News today, though media outlets can choose not to have their articles indexed. Few do opt out, though, with most electing to have at least a snippet available in search results.
Despite publishers’ ongoing criticisms of Google and the way it handles their content on the web, there is little question Google holds much sway over the flow of traffic to online news outlets. Back in November, Axel Springer, one of Germany’s largest news publishers, revealed it would permit Google to include small segments of content from its articles, following a detrimental impact on its traffic from a two-week “experiment” restricting access via search engines.
Google does play a crucial role in driving traffic to news outlets, but these news outlets want to have more control and say. The full ramifications of this new collaboration won’t be known for a while yet, but it’s worth noting the timing of today’s announcement.
After four years of investigation from European Union authorities, earlier this month Google was formally accused of using its search dominance to influence results, impacting competitors and consumers in the process. Elsewhere in Europe, Russia too has Google in its crosshairs over what it calls anti-competitive practices. While Google’s management of news services isn’t part of these specific wrangles, it’s clear that Google needs to get the media on board if it’s to improve its image across Europe.