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“Get as much money as we can to pay for serious journalism”: 5K+ newsrooms worldwide to receive funding from Google

Google recently announced that it has selected over 5,300 newsrooms from across the world for its Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. The selected newsrooms “will receive funding ranging from $5,000 to $30,000,” according to Ludovic Blecher, Head of Google News Initiative Innovation. “Applications covering a number of publications under one organization will be capped at $85,000,” he adds.

The fund was launched in April to support local news publishers who have been the hardest hit in the pandemic. “Local news is a vital resource for keeping people and communities connected in the best of times,” wrote Richard Gingras, VP, News at Google, in a post announcing the fund. “Today, it plays an even greater function in reporting on local lockdowns or shelter at home orders, school and park closures, and data about how COVID-19 is affecting daily life. 

“But that role is being challenged as the news industry deals with job cuts, furloughs and cutbacks as a result of the economic downturn prompted by COVID-19.”  

1800+ newsrooms funded in North America

Google received 12,000 applications from 140 countries over a two-week period in April. “90% of those applications were from newsrooms of less than 26 journalists,” notes Blecher. They were reviewed against a set of previously established criteria.

The company has provided a snapshot of some of the recipients and how they plan to spend the funding. They span across North America (1800+ newsrooms funded), Latin America (1050+), Europe, the Middle East and Africa (1550+), and Asia Pacific (800+).

The newsrooms plan to use the fund for a wide range of activities, including:

  • Migrating to a new platform online. (Chestnut Hill Local, Northwest Philadelphia, PA, US)
  • Investing in audio, video, data production tools for better coverage. (Eco di Bergamo, Italy)
  • Purchasing personal protective equipment for reporters. (Baraka FM, Kenya)
  • Focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on the poor and African-American communities. (The Daily Memphian, Memphis, TN, US)
  • Simply keeping the newsroom going. (Minnambalam, India)

The Journalism Emergency Relief Fund builds up on Google’s other recent initiatives to help publishers. They include a donation of $1M to the International Center for Journalists and the Columbia Journalism School’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma via Google.org. Additionally, the company announced in April that it would provide $6.5M in funding to fact-checkers and nonprofits fighting coronavirus-related misinformation. 

“Playing a larger role in the future of news publishers”

Other tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter have also pitched in with aid for publishers. Facebook announced earlier that it had committed $100M to support publishers during the pandemic. Of this, $25M would be distributed as emergency grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project. The remaining $75M would be used for additional marketing spend to move money over to news organizations around the world. 

“Facebook rushed $5,000 payments to 400 local news outlets in March, and followed it up with $16 million in larger grants to 200 publishers in early May,” according to Local Media Association Consultant, Matt DeRienzo.  

These build up on both Google and Facebook’s earlier commitments to spend $300M over three years to support journalism. 

However, “that hasn’t stopped some critics from reopening the old argument that the big social and tech platforms’ disruption of digital advertising and content distribution is one of the chief problems facing traditional media,” adds DeRienzo.

“Pay for serious journalism”

“For years, Google and Facebook wanted to have it both ways,” writes Digiday’s Max Willens. “They wanted publishers’ content to attract and retain users, but they didn’t want to pay for it.”

But that’s changing now as they “are playing a larger role in the future of news publishers,” he continues. “Over the next few months, Google and Facebook will, combined, spend close to a quarter billion dollars supporting local news, through a combination of emergency relief grants, extra marketing dollars earmarked for ads on publishers’ sites, and the waiving of fees Google normally collects from its ad server.”

In any case, I’m all for Google and Facebook redistributing any part of their enormous profits to people who make journalism. So bring it on, regardless of intent or results. Some money is better than none.

Peter Kafka, Senior Correspondent, Vox 

“People want to debate whether this is an offensive move or a defensive move, and I don’t care,” Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune, told Digiday about the duopoly’s funding programs. 

The publisher has applied for money from both Facebook and Google. 

“My job, our job, is to get as much money as we can to pay for serious journalism,” he concluded.

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