I still remember the first (and only) time I got a residual check from the Associated Press after one of my stories was picked up. It was for US$92 in the late 1990s — pretty great for somebody earning a small-market journalist’s wage. It was energising. It was also humbling, having just seen firsthand how hard it is to produce original journalism.
It’s been a long journey from Flagstaff, Arizona, radio stations, delivering the local news dozens of times per day (a shoutout to those of you who know what a potentiometer is!).
Today, leading our local news team at Google, I never forget that most local news organisations are, first and foremost, small businesses. And keeping a small business going is hard. One minute you’re negotiating a contract, and the next minute you’re answering a subscriber’s question or changing the paper towel roll in the break room. All without fanfare.
At Google, we are fans. And much more than just fans. We are deeply committed to helping local news.
We continue to be humbled by the number of local news companies that tap into our no-cost services, programming, and funding. We have a lot of Google News Initiative (GNI) resources to help publishers and journalists, which is great, but we also realise it can be overwhelming to sort through.
If you ever find yourself asking, “Does Google have anything that can help me with this news challenge?” please assume the answer is yes. INMA can help you navigate these resources, and the team is constantly in touch with us as well.
For example, I just met a newspaper editor planning to leave their role to start a digital news outlet, and they hadn’t yet heard of the GNI start-ups programme. In 2021, we supported nearly 100 early-stage news businesses through labs and boot camps, and we plan to support more than 200 more via 14 live programmes across all regions in 2022. So far, this editor has said the resources have been “extremely helpful.”
And would it surprise you to learn that, through our programmes, we’ve trained more than 550,000 journalists globally? Additionally, if you have a new hire in the newsroom, send them to the Journalist Studio, one of our product offerings. You’ll find content here across a range of topics, including visual storytelling, defending against censorship, and identifying trending topics to cover — all at no cost. In fact, even the most seasoned journalists tend to find something in the collection that helps them in their work.
My work at Google began with DoubleClick, where I worked on a product which you may now know as Google Ad Manager. It helps publishers maximise digital ad revenue. I loved what Dr. Frances Murphy Draper of The AFRO said relevant to this: “You can have a whole lot of tech. But if you don't know what to do with it, you just have a whole lot of tech.”
I used to say we’re at our best at Google when we’re building great tech. While that still rings true, I’m increasingly seeing that we’re also at our best when we’re helping people and businesses activate great tech. Dr. Draper and team achieved a 34% increase in digital advertising revenue after participating in a Google News Initiative Ad Transformation Lab, and we hope their success can serve as a model for other news organisations.
It’s a privilege to work every day with local news publishers on sustainability. As I constantly tell my team, “Default to requirements gathering.” What I mean is to always seek to understand how things work and what may be limiting progress.
We know a lot about the ecosystem’s challenges, but we don’t presume to know it all. We challenge our own assumptions. We ask questions. We listen. And we respond with services and programming designed to directly impact the challenges.
There are certainly industry stakeholders that don’t agree with us on some very important issues. I believe it’s possible to disagree and still come together to work productively. We have to come together because news is critical to our local communities, and ensuring its sustainability is a key challenge with which we should all be concerned.
The free flow of information is under threat globally. News is increasingly becoming inaccessible to many vulnerable members of society, who arguably need it most. We will not stop helping local news publishers, nor the news ecosystem broadly.