Google wants to do more for news publishers, Steve Grove, founding director of Google’s News Lab, told participants at INMA’s World Congress of News Media on Tuesday afternoon.

After years of rapid growth, the company realised it had products and data that could help the news media industry, Grove said. That is when it decided to launch the Google News Lab.

“We now have partnerships and trainings in 52 countries around the world,” he said.

Steve Grove, founding director of the Google News Lab, says helping news media companies helps Google.
Steve Grove, founding director of the Google News Lab, says helping news media companies helps Google.

Grove admits there are business motivations to help news succeed. As a search platform, quality content makes Google more valuable to users. The company’s reach and search power makes it a perfect partner for news organisations, he said: “Google exists to organise news and information to make it universally accessible and useful and spread it with people all across the world.”

While Google has done a lot in the news space, the company has not always gotten things right, he added. Success comes from close collaboration between Google and news media companies.

“I think when we’ve worked best alongside news organisations in the past, it’s been when we go really deep in partnership and collaboration with the industry,” he said.

Grove used Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages as an example of an ongoing successful collaborative effort: “Over 70% of mobile sites today take more that 10 seconds to load. If your site takes longer than three seconds to load, you lose the audience.”

Google now delivers more than five billion AMP pages across the world. Despite this project, and other efforts such as its YouTube Player, Digital News Initiative, and First Draft, Google believes it may not be enough.

“There’s a real sense of urgency within the company to help news organisations do more,” Grove said.

In working with news media companies, Google recognises a few challenges affecting both industries now and in the future:

  • It is more and more difficult for Google to ensure people consume accurate information. As a search engine, Google pulls all content across the Internet.
  • Digital advertising revenue is not keeping up fast enough to offset the decline in print revenue. The advancement in subscriptions also fails to cover that gap.
  • Technology is moving fast. “It’s hard for a lot of institutions to keep up with that,” Grove said. “It’s even hard to Google to keep up with that, frankly.”

With this in mind, Google made an internal mission to help news media companies keep up with rapid industry and technology changes. Grove said the company is doing this in three ways:

  1. Elevating and strengthening quality journalism. “Without quality journalism, none of this really matters.” 
  2. Evolving biz models to drive sustainable growth. “Last October, we started applying machine learning to some of our advertising techniques.” 
  3. Empowering news organisations through tech innovation. “If you’re a journalist today and you’re thinking just about the tech, there’s never been a more exciting time to tell a story.”

Grove outlined five ways tech companies and news organisations can better work together.

  1. Get in the trenches together.
  2. Find common ground and common enemies that you can work together on.
  3. Treat each other as individuals not as part of a monolith.
  4. Share data, learnings, and feedback.
  5. Be willing to listen and to change.

Google is addressing some of the challenges facing newsrooms in three pillars, Grove said:

1. How Google can build products to elevate quality journalism. 

Grove emphasised that Google is a search tool, not a “ledger of absolute truth.” Google’s search function tries to weigh two major factors. The first is about surfacing the most authoritative source during a search. The second is relevance.

“It’s really the relevance/authoritativeness balance that’s key to ensuring the search results deliver quality for our user,” Grove said.

During breaking news, particularly crisis-based news, false stories can be created much more quickly than quality content. In these moments, it is crucial to train the algorithm using different indicators of trust.

“In those situations of breaking news that we’re finding that we need to shift our algorithms toward authoritativeness,” he said.

2. Combating misinformation in news organisations.

Google has been working to increase the number of fact-checkers across the world. Grove pointed to Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which offers free tools to media companies around the world.

3. Improving digital media literacy.

“There’s a sort of feeling in Silicon Valley that you should create a product so simple to use that you don’t really need instructions for it,” Grove said. “That actually doesn’t really apply to other parts of the technology universe.”

With funding from Google, Poynter has launched MediaWise to build a whole curriculum around media literacy to be used in schools all over the world: “We think it’s a key part of this equation that we really need to get right,” Grove said.