Many press releases announcing projects in the news industry quietly note that funding for the projects has come from Google. These days Google’s name is popping up a lot and a lot more than Facebook’s.
The Google News Initiative, the tech giant’s “effort to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age,” made a commitment of $300 million when it announced in 2018. The initiative is not the company’s first foray into the industry. Among its offerings are a digital growth program aimed at small and medium-sized publishers and emergency funding for local publishers to help with the impact of COVID-19. More than 5,600 recipients have taken advantage of the emergency relief fund, called JERF (Journalism Emergency Relief Fund).
And now, after years of complaints that Google is pocketing dollars that would have gone to the news industry, Google has another offering on deck. Google will pay $1 billion for news over the next three years, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced in an Oct. 1 blog post.
The payments will come as part of the new Google News Showcase. The product features “the editorial curation of award-winning newsrooms to give readers more insight on the stories that matter, and in the process, helps publishers develop deeper relationships with their audiences,” said the post.
News Showcase has started rolling out in Brazil and Germany and will expand to other countries in the coming months, said the post.
So with more money now flowing out of Google, is the industry tone softening?
“We applaud Google’s recognition of a premium for premium journalism and the understanding that the editorial eco-system has been dysfunctional, verging on dystopian,” said News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson in an Oct. 1 statement on Google’s News Showcase. “There are complex negotiations ahead but the principle and the precedent are now established.”
That tone isn’t in harmony with other messages coming from the news industry and advocates.
“The money, spread over three years and the entire globe, is welcome — but this is PR, not a product,” said a Nieman Lab analysis of Google’s new program.
Google’s $1 billion announcement came less than a week before House Antitrust Chairman David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and the Democratic majority of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law released a report on the behavior of the Big Tech platforms. The report includes a discussion of the online platforms’ anticompetitive actions against news publishers and how that abuse harms the ability to produce quality journalism, says the News Media Alliance, which has railed against Big Tech on Capitol Hill. The report makes recommendations for addressing what it deems anticompetitive conduct in digital markets.
A Republican report was released separately. “As conservatives, we agree that we can and must address the challenges posed by Big Tech’s monopolistic control of the digital economy,” says the GOP’s report. It warns against "heavy-handed regulation" and says "we believe there is a bipartisan path forward.”
Sitting up on Capitol Hill
Meanwhile, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, introduced in April 2019, sits on Capitol Hill. Introduced in the House by Cicilline and Doug Collins (R-Georgia), it’s a bipartisan bill that would provide a limited safe harbor for news publishers to collectively negotiate with Google, Facebook and other platforms. A bipartisan companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-Louisiana) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota).
And another publishing-related battle with Big Tech, coming mostly from the right, has seen another salvo: the campaign to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. On Sept. 23, the Justice Department sent a letter to Congress on the department’s proposal “to modernize and clarify the immunity that 47 U.S.C. § 230 provides to online platforms that host and moderate content.”
So which is it? Is Google a BFF, a frenemy or an enemy to the news industry?
Weigh in: What are your thoughts on Google’s moves in the industry? Has the industry sold its soul or is the money Google infuses good for the industry? Should the government go after Big Tech and will it do so? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may use them in a roundup on this issue. If you want to send them anonymously or if you don’t want us to use your name, that’s OK. Just provide basic info, such as that you’re a news editor or a feature writer.