Google News Initiative: Building Stronger Journalism Benefits Researchers

The goal of Google News Initiative is to support news organizations around the world to not only ensure that quality journalism endures but also to fight against misinformation and disinformation. It provides training and funding towards that end. Three recent projects benefit not only journalism but also the essential need for access to information that is trustworthy, reliable and complete.

Google's News Initiative, which started in 2018, has a global remit rather than being solely focussed on North America. The idea behind the initiative is to build stronger journalism worldwide. In these days, when cries of "fake news" abound and with the increasing prevalence of misinformation and disinformation, anything to bolster credible news is a welcome sight. Unlike scholarly research, which is often funded by government grants, news outlets rely on subscriptions and advertising to remain going concerns.

The goal of supporting news organizations, particularly for local news, has important benefits for librarians and researchers who rely on being able to find trustworthy information from news sources. Its latest initiatives include a European subscriptions lab, grants to develop artificial intelligence (AI) in journalism and a global approach to fact checking.

European Newspapers Subscription Lab

Camila Samilian, Program Manager, News Partnerships Solutions, reported on the 23 March kickoff of the second edition of the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab program in Europe, developed in partnership with FT Strategies and the International News Media Association (INMA) to assist news outlets as they turn to online subscriptions to make money, strengthen their capabilities and grow reader revenue.

The Lab is an eight-month program designed to strengthen and accelerate growth of publishers' subscription business and help them develop new monetization strategies. It will focus on every step of the process, from how readers discover news content to how publishers convert those readers into subscribers and retain them over the long term.  The Subscriptions Lab is a part of the Google News Initiative’s Digital Growth Programme, which was created to provide European news publishers with training and other resources to grow their digital business.

Building on the success of last year’s edition, the 2021 program attracted more than 50 applicants from 22 European countries. The eight publishers selected, that represent a mix of local, regional and national publishers of varying sizes, plus participants at different stages of their subscriptions journey are:

  • The Courier (DC Thomson Media), United Kingdom
  • Denik (Vltava Labe Media), Czech Republic 
  • Irish Independent (Independent News & Media), Ireland 
  • Le Journal du Dimanche (Lagardère Media News), France 
  • OÖNachrichten (Wimmer Medien), Austria 
  • El País (Prisa), Spain 
  • Público (Público Comunicação Social), Portugal 
  • Ruhr Nachrichten (Lensing Media), Germany

The program draws on the expertise of each of the partners, the analytical tools developed by the Google News Initiative, FT Strategies’ experience of developing a successful subscriptions business and expertise from INMA’s Readers First Initiative

To see more experiment results from last year’s cohort as well as detailed learnings, watch the recording of INMA’s virtual Town Hall, or read the new report by FT Strategies, called “Towards your North Star.”  

Journalism AI

David Dieudonné, News Lab Lead, France, Italy, & Spain, announced the JournalismAI Collab Challenges, an opportunity for three groups of five newsrooms from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific to experiment together. The Google News Initiative and Polis—the journalism think tank at the London School of Economics and Political Science—are collaborating on the project. Each cohort will have six months to either cover global news stories using AI-powered storytelling techniques or to develop prototypes of new AI-based products and processes.

Participants will receive support from the JournalismAI team and partner institutions in each region. In the Americas it will be co-hosted with the Knight Lab at Northwestern University; in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the co-host is BBC News Labs and Clwstwr. JournalismAI’s partner in Asia Pacific is not yet announced.

The Collab Challenges build on a successful pilot run by JournalismAI last year. More than 20 global newsrooms joined forces to solve four common problems using AI, from creating automated news summaries to mitigating newsroom biases, and from powering archives to increasing audience loyalty. JournalismAI online trainings are available on the Google News Initiative Training Center. To learn more about the process, visit Polis blog and sign up for the JournalismAI newsletter.

Fact Checking

These global projects expand the reach of fact-checks, says Alexios Mantzarlis, News and Information Credibility Lead, Google News Lab. Fact checking, particularly given the misinformation surrounding the pandemic and vaccines, is of critical importance. Journalists can play a fundamental role in supporting an evidence-based discourse by listening to their audiences’ concerns and providing corrective information about misconceptions that circulate online and offline. To support this work, the Google News Initiative launched a $3 million Open Fund in January.

The 11 projects selected are:

Africa Check, in partnership with Theatre for a Change, will produce a series of interactive radio drama shows in Wolof in Senegal and Pidgin in Nigeria to present fact checks in a more participatory format.

Agência Lupa will provide COVID-19 vaccine fact checks to a network of community radios covering Brazilian “news deserts” and work with digital influencers to promote media literacy on the topic.

Aleteia, I.Media and will work with a scientific committee and two research centers to source misinformation and create a database of related fact checks available in seven languages for Catholic media outlets around the world.

Chequeado will continue spearheading the collaborative project Latam Chequea that includes more than 20 fact-checking organizations across Latin America. It will aim to reach senior citizens, indigenous populations and 18-to-26-year-olds through dedicated formats.

The hyperlocal digital site Escenario Tlaxcala, assisted by local doctors, will produce fact-checking content and distribute it across the Mexican state in Nahuatl and Otomí through various formats including by using “perifoneo” loudspeakers to reach offline audiences.

Katadata will provide a platform debunking COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and work with the Indonesia Traditional Wet Market Merchants Association (Asparindo) to disseminate this content to wet markets across the country.

In Uruguay, la diaria will publish fact checks and co-created content around COVID-19 misinformation, broadening its reach by partnering with trap music performer Pekeño 77 and screenwriter Pedro Saborido.

Servimedia and will join force to create fact-checking content relevant for Spaniards with disabilities, in formats that are accessible to them. 

Stuff will work in partnership with Maori Television and the Pacific Media Network to fact-check misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand.

A broad collaborative project led by The Quint in India will seek to source hyper-local misinformation and distribute fact checks through a grassroots network of rural women.

Univision Noticias and will work together to produce fact checks about COVID-19 immunization as short bilingual video explainers, with a plan to measure their impact systemically and reach a majority of U.S. Hispanic households.

Google's goal is for the lessons learned from these initiatives to support our collective understanding of how best to combat misinformation about health topics, whether it’s through new audience strategies or new approaches to measuring the impact of fact checks. Stay tuned for more updates from us as these projects get underway.

Google News Initiative

The news initiative has five basic tenets: Quality journalism matters, Financial stability requires innovation, The digital news ecosystem should remain open, New technology presents new opportunity, and Collaboration is key to success.

Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, writes on the Google News Initiative site, "We believe in spreading knowledge to make life better for everyone. It’s at the heart of Google’s mission. It’s the mission of publishers and journalists. Put simply, our futures are tied together." Although his comments are aimed at journalism, the futures of libraries and good, reputable journalism are also tied together. We must have robust and accurate news if we are to build excellent library collections and provide valid reference and research services.