Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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The Digital News Innovation Fund: How publishers can succeed in the next round of funding

In 2015, Google launched The Digital News Innovation Fund, a European programme that’s part of Google’s News Initiative, to help journalism thrive in the digital age. The DNI Fund is a €150 million commitment to support journalism’s shift to online and kick-start innovation within the European news ecosystems.

Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI) has supported 461 innovative projects since its launch three years ago and spent more than £83 million supporting media innovation. As a fresh round of funding approaches, the sixth round of applications will open before the end of the year, giving publishers plenty of time to fine-tune their applications. Google has received more than 4,800 applications since it first started the fund, so it’s important publishers know how to standout.

Louis Dumoulin, head of UK office at the consultancy and digital transformation agency CosaVostra, and Daniel Daum, digital transformation consultant and former managing director of Prisma, have both helped organizations apply to the DNI fund and shared their insights to the process with July’s newsrewired audience. CosaVostra has helped more than 20 projects obtain DNI funding, with an impressive 80 percent success rate from all the projects it has assisted.

The bad news is there is no unique way of being successful when applying but publishers can follow a few simple steps to ensure their application is as strong as possible.

Projects must be news related

This may seem obvious to publishers wishing to apply, but it’s easy to miss the fundamental point of the DNI fund when ideas start to form. Google’s mission is clear according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who said, “Google cares deeply about journalism. We believe deeply in spreading knowledge to make life better for everyone. It’s at the heart of Google’s mission. It’s the mission of publishers and journalists. Put simply, our futures are tied.” Therefore you can have a great idea for a simple plugin like CosaVostra’s PodScript for example, or even an ambitious project, like a virtual reality environment in your newsroom, which is something the Italian newspaper La Stampa did with The ROOM, but keeping it news-focused is key.

Last year WikiTribune, a news platform launched by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, was awarded €385,000 from the programme for its new related idea in round three of the applications. The platform seeks to solve the problem of clickbait low-quality journalism by bringing community members into the virtual newsroom to work side-by-side with paid professional journalists. The latter will research and report news stories alongside volunteers who curate articles by proofreading, fact-checking, suggesting changes and adding sources for stories that matter.

Al Jazeera’s AJ Labs London also received funding to build an open-source, interactive, storytelling app for news and current affairs features where the user experiences journalism via a messaging platform. The app enables journalists to embed content from interviews with a variety of sources into a series of message exchanges, and it allows the user to choose between a number of seemingly direct conversations with the interviewees. The user’s responses trigger the text messaging exchange and pivotal “decision points” give the user choices on how to progress.

Impacting a local ecosystem

“You should always set the bar high and think of ways in which your ideas can have an impact on your ecosystem,” explained Dumoulin to the newswire audience.

The DNI Innovation Fund is supportive of organizations and individuals who share their experience and project learnings with others.  The open source elements can be targeted by publishers which can show their wider impact on the news ecosystem.

For example, based on an open source technology stack, the Live Coverage Ecosystem project from Sourcefabric in the Czech Republic seeks to significantly lower the barriers to entry for real-time coverage and live blogging for all news media. They received €237,339 in round 1 for a solution based on a two-way syndication of resources between participating media outlets including news agencies and their customers.

“There are many topics that local communities regard as particularly pressing, but journalists usually only discover them by accident,” says AZ Management Services in Switzerland. This inspired their idea to create a platform where citizens’ concerns can be collected and rated at a municipal level. That was the goal of “Project Iris”, which received €202,000 and has released this source code into the public domain.

Remember: innovating is easier than you think

Thinking of innovative ideas doesn’t mean that publishers have to create a new technology from scratch. A lot of successful projects are based on the assembly of existing technologies in order to create a different and new user experience explained Dumoulin.

Together with news agencies and publishers, the Slovenian NGO Danes je nov dan, Inštitut za druga vprašanja (Today is a new day, Institute for other studies) works on Parlameter. It’s a parliamentary monitoring tool that enables users to gain a unique insight into the work of their representatives. By analyzing data gathered from parliamentary sources and visualizing it in embeddable information cards, an already existent technology, the €331,860 project allows journalists to save time and easily enhance their online articles with relevant interactive content. With Parlameter, journalists can focus on analyzing the political landscape and telling the story.

Google’s DNI is a programme for authentic enthusiasts and requires a deep commitment to both the project and the application. But with €150 million in funding on offer, publishers should consider focusing on the next round of DNI applications which will begin at the end of the year. We’ll keep you posted.