Google – Tech companies are enablers of news industry evolution

A word from the platinum sponsor

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Shilpa Jhunjhunwala of Google during the WAN IFRA eSummit
Shilpa Jhunjhunwala of Google during the WAN IFRA eSummit

Technology companies like Google are enablers in the evolutionary process that the news industry is going through, Shilpa Jhunjhunwala, south APAC head of news and publishing product partnerships at Google, said during the Wan-Ifra Indian Media Leaders eSummit on 30 June. Jhunjhunwala said technology keeps evolving along with the readers’ behaviors and new internet users. And to keep pace becomes challenging for news organizations. However, through products like its skills program, she said that Google had enabled publishers to move further in their journey towards digital transformation.

In the recent past, the business practices of technology companies like Google and Facebook have come under severe scrutiny. Recently, the French government fined Google 220 million Euros for misusing its dominance in online advertising.

In February, closer to home, The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) wrote a letter to Google asking it to compensate the Indian newspapers ‘comprehensively’ for the use of content published by the newspapers and share its advertising revenues properly.

Support for the industry

Jhunjhunwala suggested that Google supports the news industry in a variety of ways, such as Google search. “This enables users to support revenue through our products,” she said.

She said Google is also excited about products enabling new forms of monetization, such as products to support advertising, subscription, and other revenue streams. Google has also committed US$ 1 billion globally in a three-year program called News Showcase. Google products like Google News, Youtube, and Google Podcasts also help send traffic, she said.

Google News Initiative 

Google launched the Google News Initiative India Training Network with BoomLive, DataLeads, and Internews in 2018. In addition, it has funded 228 small and mid-sized news outlets via Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. It also funded The Quint on combating COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

Google has extended a US$ 1 million grant to train journalists, fact-checkers, academics, and NGOs to fight misinformation and fake news. “So far, this program has trained over 30,000 journalists across the country in 10 languages and involving more than 1,000 organizations,” she said.

In India, Google says it collaborates closely with the industry to expand the languages it supports through its apps. For example, Google’s News Initiative Advertising Lab includes training sessions and implementation support to help more than 800 mid and small news organizations grow their digital advertising revenues. Also, Google News Initiative Transformation Lab provides a more comprehensive program for 20 local and small-sized Indian new organizations to help them succeed online.

Labs are essentially programs where Google works with an independent consultant or an expert and the range of participating publishers over a few weeks or even months to move the needle on one of the core issues such as subscription data or audience.

Jhunjhunwala said that Google News Initiative would continue to expand its efforts in India. Google is adding to its journalists training efforts with an increase on the ground resourcing. “We have committed to training 15,000 journalists and students in the next three years,” she said. Google is also adding a series of business training workshops to be delivered virtually and free for Indian publishers. The theme of these will be product innovation.

A word from our sponsor

It’s not surprising that Google and Facebook, who are platinum sponsors of the Wan-Ifra eSummit, are allowed to impress the industry they have parasitically undermined in an unquestioned public relations exercise rather than a knowledge presentation. A month ago, Google announced that the first 25 Indian news organizations have agreed to submit curated articles to be made available in the News Showcase.

At that time, Google talked about 50,000 journalists trained across the country and not the 30,000 that Jhunjhunwala mentioned. Although Google keeps asserting that it has trained or skilled 50,000 Indian journalists, a leading publisher that we spoke to about this was a bit skeptical. “This number of newly trained journalists does not seem to be visible,” he said.

A considerable amount of training is needed merely to keep up not with audience or reader behavior but with Google’s behavior, such as the changes to its algorithms. Or how it unfairly favors its tools for buying and selling online ads over rival aggregators.

More public discussion by the news industry is needed of Google’s unfair ad practices and its recent agreement to pay the €220 million fine in France for misusing its dominance in online advertising. In addition, the company settled and agreed to make changes in its practices due to the investigation by the French government competition authorities.

“This case will be of interest to other regulators who are looking at the online ad market and technologies,” said Isabelle de Silva, the president of the French competition authority. She pointed out, “This is the first investigation in the world that examines the display advertising space where Google is dominant, and the first time Google has agreed to a settlement with engagements.”

Google has a history of consistently breaking European advertising regulations year after year and easily paying fines which are generally in the billions of Euros. It was fined € 1.5 billion for blocking other ad search engines in 2019. In addition, it paid a fine of € 4.3 billion for using its Android mobile operating system to block rivals in 2018. In 2017, it was fined € 2.4 billion for interfering with other shopping comparison web platforms.

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