Digital Publishing Top Stories
5 mins read

Google and other tech giants commit millions to support publishers, but fundamental changes are necessary for the industry to survive

Google has launched a global Journalism Emergency Relief Fund through the Google News Initiative. It will provide financial aid to small, mid-sized and local news publishers worldwide who have been hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.  

“Vital resource for keeping people and communities connected”

“Local news is a vital resource for keeping people and communities connected in the best of times,” writes 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.” 

Factual local reporting is indeed an “essential” in an age of fear and misinformation.

Ken Doctor, President at Newsonomics

The company hasn’t disclosed the size of the fund. Gingras says that the “funding is open to news organizations producing original news for local communities during this time of crisis, and will range from the low thousands of dollars for small hyper-local newsrooms to low tens of thousands for larger newsrooms, with variations per region.”

It’s available for publications in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Eligible publishers can apply for funds via an online application form. They have to furnish basic information about the publication and overall organization (if applicable), and how the funds will be spent.

The submissions will be reviewed and funded on a rolling basis. The company assures that it will try to respond as quickly as possible keeping in mind that they are expecting a high volume of applications. 

Applications are now open and will close on April 29. 

Other initiatives supporting journalism

Apart from this, the company’s charitable arm, will donate a total of $1M to the International Center for Journalists and the Columbia Journalism School’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. This funding will be used to support journalists worldwide, including those who have been exposed to traumatic events during the crisis.

It has also decided to waive ad serving fees for news publishers globally on Ad Manager for five months.

With these efforts, we aim to help news organizations reduce some of the cost of managing their businesses and funding important journalism during this time.

Jason Washing, Managing Director, Global Partnerships – News, Google

These build upon Google’s other recent initiatives to support publishers through the pandemic. Earlier this month, it announced that it would provide $6.5M in funding to fact-checkers and nonprofits fighting coronavirus-related misinformation. 

Additionally, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced late last month that the company was donating $800M in cash and ads to fight coronavirus. Of this, $340M has been allocated in Google ad credits for small to medium-sized businesses whose accounts have been active over the past year. 

Pichai also said that the company will be creating a $200M investment fund that will support NGOs and financial institutions around the world to help provide small businesses with access to capital.

Additionally, there is a new COVID-19 experience on Google News that pulls together and organizes all the latest news at the global and local level. The feature puts local news front and center with a dedicated section highlighting the latest authoritative information about the virus from local publishers.

Other tech companies including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have also chipped in with financial aid programs that would benefit the publishing industry.

Facebook has commited $100M to support publishers. 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.

“The closest thing to a path forward for local newspapers”

These programs would provide much needed support to the industry that has been reeling from the effects of the pandemic. In the US, newspaper ad revenues have dropped 20% to 30% in the last few weeks compared to a year ago.

An estimated 28,000 employees of news media companies in the US have been laid off, furloughed or had their pay reduced since the crisis began. Some publications that rely on ads have shut down, according to a New York Times report. 

On the bright side, a recent survey by Pew Research had 54% of US adults saying that the news media has done an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Newsnomics’ Ken Doctor says, “It is readers and their willingness to support the news who increasingly distinguish the survivors from those facing the end of the road.

“Advertising, which has been doing a slow disappearing act since 2008, has been cut in half in the space of two weeks. It’s unlikely to come back quickly — the parts that do come back at all.” 

He adds, “digital subscriptions are way up at the strongest local newspapers, with new weekly signups up 2x to 5x over pre-virus times. That’s thousands of much-needed new customers.” 

There’s a little sunshine in digital subscriptions — the closest thing to a path forward for local newspapers. 

Ken Doctor, President at Newsonomics

“Accelerating innovation that was long overdue”

According to Amol Rajan, Media Editor at the BBC, the crisis has highlighted the ill-health of the newspaper and magazine business. 

“What’s striking is that, while that business has been in crisis for well over a decade and a half, and in that time been through the global financial crisis and downturn that followed, many titles had still not done enough to prepare for the current emergency,” he wrote.

“The fundamentals haven’t changed; they’ve just been exposed. The market in local news is broken; there is no editorial solution to the commercial problems of publishing; the sooner you can make digital pay, the better; and revenue direct from readers will always, always be preferable to that from advertisers.”

Covid-19 is accelerating innovation that was long overdue and likely to happen anyway.

Amol Rajan, Media Editor, BBC

Many publishers may need to step-up their transformation to digital to thrive in future. “The value of digital channels, products and operations is immediately obvious to companies everywhere right now,” said Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. 

“This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. 

“Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term.”