Google and eight European newspapers announced Tuesday the creation of a fund of 150 million euros to support digital journalism.
On paper, the initiative seems benign, but in reality, Google’s intention revolves around consolidating its grip on internet news media in a way that it can control even further what is shown on people’s news searches.
It is called the Digital News initiative and, according to Google, it will be operational in the coming months.
The intention of the fund, Google and its partners say, is to encourage “quality journalism through technology and innovation” and to fund “projects that show new ways of thinking in the practice of digital journalism.”
In practice, Google intends to do two things. First, become the global manager of news distribution, where all online journalistic content must go through its filters to be “adequately” filtered. Second, Google intends to limit and eventually block alternative media content from reaching news consumers.
The DNI brings now includes mass media such as El País of Spain, Les Echos in France, Germany’s FAZ, The Financial Times and The Guardian in Britain. It has also added Dutch Media NRC, La Stampa in Italy and Die Zeit in Germany. According to Google’s statement, the initiative has the support of organizations such as the European Journalism Centre, Global Editors Network and International News Media Association.
This future mechanism, which will join with other European publishers, will be articulated around three axes: product development, innovation support; training and research.
The first of the three axes has to do with how news are produced and it won’t be surprising if much of the content generated under this phase is either official propaganda fed to the media or to Google by government sources and/or computer generated information. Both practices are existing manipulation tools used by major media outlets.
Google and the publishers will create what has been called a task force with the purpose of “increasing revenue, traffic and the degree of commitment” of online readers. Careful attention needs to be given to the “traffic” aspect of this proposal. Right now, Google and Facebook have the ability to manage any news feed it wants, propping some news while restricting others.
In order to support innovation, Google will also “make available 150 million euros for projects bearers of new ideas in the practice of digital journalism” for a period of three years. As it occurs with other industries, the news business is already subject to financial manipulation, where large conglomerates haul out large amounts of cash to attract fresh ideas, but later these ideas become property of the financiers, who use them to fulfill their personal or corporate goals.
Google also plans to provide journalists with research sources that will be based throughout Europe, in the form of “online tools” to do their professional work.
“Google has always wanted to be a friend and collaborator of the media,” said Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, manager of strategic partnerships in Europe for Google, in The Financial Times conference on digital media held on Tuesday in London. “We want to take our part in the joint struggle to find more sustainable models for journalism,” he said.
Not so benign changes
The president of strategic partnerships for Google in Europe, Carlo D’Asaro Biondo said that the company considers changing its Google News service “for the benefit of digital media”, which have Google of abusing its dominance and of preventing their growth.
That is precise what will continue to happen as Google consolidates its power over internet news content. Google will promote “news” produced by large media conglomerates that work at the service of international corporations while limiting or eliminating content generated by alternative news outlets.
Google already implements censorship practices when the company, in any of its services, blocks audio, video or text due to unproven allegations of “alleged” copyright violations. In the meantime, Google plans to provide more visibility to news stories that the company deems as produced by “strong brands” or whose “expertise” in certain areas provides relevance to the news content while leaving independent news research out of sight.
“Digital News Initiative” comes after years of public disagreements between Google and European media and governments with whom it has had confrontations because of its questionable practices. Most of the confrontations have taken place in countries like France, Germany and Spain, where Google News was shut down after the Commission European accused the company of committing abuses related to search dominance.