Collaboration with european publishers: Digital News Initiative of Google

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What is the DNI?

The DNI is a partnership between Google and news publishers in Europe. According to Google, high quality journalism is said to be supported through technology and innovation. The goal is to encourage a more sustainable news ecosystem and promote innovation in digital journalism through ongoing collaboration and dialogue between the tech and news sectors. The DNI is focusing on three pillars.

  • Product development – Establishment of a “product working group” to enable an ongoing dialog between Google and the publishers

  • Supporting innovation – 150 million euros fund to support and stimulate innovations in digital news journalism

  • Training & research – Investments in training and development resources for journalists and newsrooms across Europe

Who can apply for the fund of 150 million euros?

The DNI innovation fund is open to for-profit and non-profit organisations as well as individuals that have a promising idea which demonstrates a new thinking in the practice of digital journalism. Established publishers, online-only players, news start-ups, publisher consortia, national or international associations, companies and individuals – all of them are eligible to apply.

Over the next three years, there are going to be two application rounds per year. The application window is already open and the deadline for the first round is December 4, 2015. Applications will be reviewed by a project team and a council, both consisting of “Googlers” and external experts of the European news industry. In February 2016, the first selected projects are going to be announced.

Critical Responses

Criticism has been voiced by the publisher Axel Springer, who deliberately decided not to join the DNI. Christoph Lauer, who is responsible for strategic innovations at Axel Springer told the news magazine Spiegel: “The publishers provide Google with their knowledge. A ‘Brain Drain’ in the direction of Google is taking place. You could also call this transparent industrial espionage”. If the company wanted to help the publishers then “Google could simply accept the ancillary copyright. The publishers could invest in digital innovations with that money”. However, Google refuses to pay license fees on the basis of the ancillary copyright for displaying news search results. Considering the seven billion dollars that Google invests in research and development every year, 150 million euros are “peanuts and raise the question if the company really means it”.

Journalism professor Frank Lobigs from the Technical Universiy of Dortmund also heavily criticized the publishers which participate in Google’s 150 million euros funding of digital journalism. In his contribution to the debate for the newsmagazine “Focus”, Lobigs wrote: “Just like in Doctor Faustus’ deal with the devil, it is about regeneration and new life which the publishers want to obtain with Google’s millions of dollars. However, just like in the Faustian bargain, it might also be about the soul of journalism”. Like Christoph Lauer, he points to the ancillary copyright and states that with it, far larger sums of money would go from Google to the publishers, “but by law and not by the grace of Google”. Lobigs appealed that quality journalism “must be maintained in Germany even without Google’s development aid”.

Many will also wonder if the involvement of the DNI will have an impact on the journalistic independence of the publishers. Spiegel Online chief editor Florian Hams said: We will support this project with the same critical attitude that characterizes our entire coverage – even towards Google”. Whether this is really the case remains to be seen.

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