Distilling the rollout of Google News Initiative

By Earl J. Wilkinson


Dallas, Texas, USA


In rolling out the Google News Initiative yesterday in New York, it was easy to get lost in the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged to support digital journalism or the laundry list of a dozen products that make up the initiative. 

What stood out to me was the rollout itself. 

Slick even by Google standards, the Silicon Valley-based platform giant marshaled a who’s who of New York’s media scene in garage-like event space in Manhattan’s Upper West Side along a smattering of media companies from far-flung geographies, including quite a few INMA members.

The Google News Initiative will distribute US$300 million over the next three years to support journalism globally.
The Google News Initiative will distribute US$300 million over the next three years to support journalism globally.

As I marveled at the production, I couldn’t help but muse: Is this the same company that held invitation-only events behind closed doors on the sidelines of industry conferences five years ago? Is this the same company that publishers often accused of compartmentalising information flow to them? Is this the same company once labeled unapproachable by publishers? 

The challenge for Google is not good deeds. It’s distilling and communicating those good deeds in a digestible way — and in a way that generates goodwill and credit. 

The Google News Initiative rollout was a “succinct” two hours of continuous programming — a good show punctuated by publisher partner case studies and no time for questions, though ready availability from all corners during pre- and post-event activities. 

On paper, Google’s distillation of its new initiative boils down to three objectives: 

  • Elevate and strengthen quality journalism.
  • Evolve business models to drive sustainable growth. 
  • Empower news organisations through technological innovation. 

Beyond those admirable objectives, the Google News Initiative strikes me as four things: 

  1. Centralising: A centralisation of Google’s substantial global initiatives to support journalism and news publishers — with a US$300 million figure attached to these efforts over the next three years. 
  2. Digital subscriptions: Specific new aspects to support digital subscriptions as publishers shift to a higher reliance on reader revenue: a consumer insights dashboard, a propensity signal, and its Subscribe With Google feature. 
  3. Battling misinformation: A repackaging and rollout of projects aimed at battling misinformation, media literacy, and prioritisation of content from trusted sources. 
  4. Spirit of DNI: A liberal borrowing and internationalisation of the spirit behind Google Europe’s Digital News Initiative that has supported digital projects and helped turn down the temperature among hot publishers. 

It is worth your time to look at the detail behind the Google News Initiative, which you can view here

What struck me on Tuesday were the constant creative tricks Google must pull off: How to lead without seeming to lead. How to make magic happen yet crediting the world’s publishers for being the foundation for Google’s success. How a company with a market cap of US$732 billion supports up versus pushes down. How to be that big and simultaneously project humility.

The New York unveiling of the Google News Initiative had the markings of these creative conundrums — and Google pulled it off with aplomb.  

Sitting in the audience — watching Jeff Jarvis tweet at warp speed and otherwise cynical publishers not used to listening … listen with rapt attention — I wondered the emotional reaction of the audience when Google’s chief business officer proclaimed: “We’re all in.” Similarly, what was the reaction when Philipp Schindler said, “We need to do more”

Google aims to project support for quality journalism, business model and cultural support for legacy publishers of all sizes, and accessibility. The critics will say this isn’t altruism but a packaging that is in Google’s best interests. Google would agree. That’s why they’re “all in.” 

Publishers often howl at the moon over things they can’t control. We can’t control Google’s bigness. We can accept a hand up with badly needed digital acceleration — at a next-generation level among premium publishers and a crash course for local publishers. Maybe we all get a better ecosystem. This is the world in which we operate.

It was a good day for Google.

About Earl J. Wilkinson

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