Google admits mistakes with news outlets as it announces new partnership

The Digital News Initiative is likely to be seen as an attempt for Google to improve its image after recently being accused of anti-competitive behaviour

By Jane Martinson
Monday 27 April 2015 15.22 EDT  Last modified on Monday 27 April 2015 19.45 EDT 

Google is to admit to making mistakes in working with news organisations as it announces a new digital partnership with eight European publishers.

The Digital News Initiative is likely to be seen as an attempt by the company to improve its image after being accused of distorting internet search results and acting anti-competitively by European regulators two weeks ago.

The European Union is investigating whether Google has abused its 90% market share in search to illegally promote its other products and services. News is not directly affected by this investigation. However, publishers have complained for years about the impact of Google’s use of their content.

In the new partnership with eight publishers, including the Guardian, Google is to establish a working group to focus on product development as well as providing a €150m (£107m) innovation fund over three years, alongside additional training and research. Publishers are keenest to explore the product development which Google promises will aim to “increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement”.

In a speech in London on Tuesday morning, Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, head of Google’s strategic relationships in Europe, is expected to say: “We recognise that technology companies and news organisations are part of the same information ecosystem and we want to play our part in the common fight to find more sustainable models for news.

“We firmly believe Google has always aimed to be friend and partner to the news industry, but we also accept we’ve made some mistakes along the way.

“We are determined to play our part in ongoing dialogue and business partnership with the aim of building something more sustainable.”

Company insiders downplayed the suggestion that the exercise was an attempt at garnering good publicity soon after the announcement of the anti-trust probe. Talks with the publishers – which include the Financial Times, Les Echos in France, NRC Media in the Netherlands, El Pais in Spain and La Stampa in Italy, Faz and Die Zeit in Germany as well as the Guardian – started as long ago as last summer.

Google hopes other global publishers join the initiative. In a statement D’Asaro Biondo said: “The internet offers huge opportunities for the creation and dissemination of great journalism. But there are also legitimate questions about how high quality journalism can be sustained in the digital age. Through the Digital News Initiative, Google will work hand in hand with news publishers and journalism organisations to help develop more sustainable models for news. This is just the beginning and we invite others to join us.”

Some publishers believe that the aim to work on products focusing on ads, video, apps, data and paid-for journalism should be rolled out globally to be most effective. Tony Danker, international director of Guardian news and media, welcomed the initiative which, he said, had real potential, “but that potential depends on whether, having been conceived by Google in Europe, it is now adopted by Google in Mountain View”.

“The test of success is whether it leads to meaningful change to ensure journalism flourishes in the digital age.”

Jon Slade, B2C managing director at the Financial Times, said: “We believe there is scope for more cooperation around discovery, monetisation and the development of tools and analytics for news organisations.” ­

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors in the UK said: “The DNI initiative will provide a welcome boost to support the innovation and imagination of editors and journalists in the UK who have made the digital revolution their own.”

The working group comes amid criticism that Google often launches new products such as its recent search optimisation changes on mobile sites without too much consultation. Google chief executive Larry Page in part recognised this last year following the landmark “right to be forgotten” ruling in Europe. “We’re trying now to be more European and think about it maybe more from a European context. A very significant amount of time is going to be spent in Europe talking,” he told the FT.


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