Google supports news, because news supports Google. Chrissy Towle, head of news and local media for the Google News Initiative, says the massive company launched the initiative as a three-year, $300 million commitment to help the news industry in new and inventive ways because, as a search engine, news is a very important component of how Google works.
“People come to Google looking for information and a lot of that is based on news queries,” she says. “It’s critical to our business that we have a wide corpus of news journalism, quality journalism, so we can provide a good experience for people coming to Google for information.”
The Google News Initiative is partnering with major news operations to try and find new models for successful, sustainable local news outlets.
“We originally launched with McClatchy and agreed to fund three new digital-only news sites in the U.S. to test all the aspects of a new model,” Towle says. So far two sites have been launched, including one in Ohio and another in Colorado, but there are already efforts starting up internationally as well, partnering with a British company called Archant.
“When we think about local news, a lot of these organizations have been around for a long time and had an old way of doing things,” she says. These news outlets might still have the weight of printing newspapers or newsletters tied up in their financial responsibilities or other holdovers from their history. “We want to see what digital only looks like so we can figure out what a sustainable model looks like for digital.”
Ideally, what the Google News Initiative wants to create, or aspires to do, is build a model that can be given to locally minded journalists around the world that would help them start news outlets geared toward community journalism with a sustainable funding structure they can utilize immediately.
Towle says she’s encouraged by what they’re seeing so far. The Google News Initiative has worked with an organization in the San Francisco area, Berkeleyside, which was created a few years ago by friends (and former journalists) who were frustrated by the lack of news coverage in their town.
“They decided to launch a site to cover their community,” she says. “In a few years, they found a model that was sustainable and profitable. They’re trying to test what they did in Berkeleyside and launch (a new site) in Oakland.”
The Google News Initiative is also looking to provide immediate help to small and medium-sized news organizations who usually rely heavily on locally owned businesses for ad revenue. They’ve launched an emergency relief fund to support local news organizations struggling to survive as advertising dries up while businesses are closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For larger organizations, the Google News Initiative is waiving all its fees for Google Ad Manager for five months, so they can use those dollars elsewhere.
This week, It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell is joined by Chrissy Towle, head of news and local media for the Google News Initiative, to discuss its ambitious project to help create sustainable models for local news outlets.