The relationship between traditional news organizations and tech companies, such as Google, has long been complicated. But the search giant that takes the lion's share of online ad revenues says it recognizes the need for "a healthy ecosystem of publishers producing great digital content."
That's why it has unveiled a $300 million Google News Initiative that includes a lab aimed at counteracting misinformation, a dashboard to help news organizations better understand their audiences, and a new tool designed to make it easier for people to sign up for paid subscriptions to news outlets.
Announced in a blog post yesterday, the Google News Initiative has three goals: to strengthen high-quality journalism, help build new business models for sustainable growth in news organizations, and empower news outlets through the use of innovative technology tools.
Tech Is 'Challenging All Institutions'
While tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, have long depended on content from traditional news organizations to drive traffic on their sites, they have also enabled other, less traditional -- and often less reliable -- sources of information to reach massive, global audiences. Facebook is currently under fire for allowing app developers to access personal user data that was used to manipulate voters in the 2016 U.S presidential election.
Google, meanwhile, has launched a number of programs over the years that aimed to support -- with mixed success -- reliable journalism and enable traditional publishers to generate steady streams of revenue.
"We invested a lot time and energy in these collaborations," chief business officer Philipp Schindler wrote in a Google blog post yesterday. "But the hard truth is -- all of this might not be enough. It's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish what's true (and not true) online. Business models for journalism continue to change drastically. The rapid evolution of technology is challenging all institutions, including the news industry -- to keep pace."
Noting that more needs to be done, Schindler said that Google's latest initiative is a major milestone that aims to "help journalism thrive in the digital age."
Schindler said the Google News Initiative will commit $300 million over the next three years to support the news industry in a number of ways. The new program includes a Disinfo Lab that will target misinformation and "fake news" during elections and other key times of breaking news, a project called MediaWise that will promote digital information literacy among young people in the U.S., and Outline, an open source tool designed to help news organizations and journalists more easily set up virtual private networks for secure access to the Internet.
Another new tool, Subscribe with Google (pictured above), is designed to make it easier and quicker for people to start paid subscriptions to news sites by using Google's sign-in and payment systems. In conjunction with that tool, Google is also testing machine learning models that can better identify which people are most likely to sign up for paid subscriptions.
Google is also launching News Consumer Insights, a Google Analytics-based dashboard to help publishers better understand their audiences and build their subscriber bases. Schindler said tests of the system by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch led to a "month-over-month tripling of new digital subscription purchases."
Schindler said Google plans to continue building new products to address the news industry's most urgent needs, and to expand such offerings globally.