Guardian & FT among European news publishers backed by £108m Google innovation fund

Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett
Tech giant Google has offered £108 million to news publishers throughout Europe, including British titles the Financial Times and the Guardian, to help them “develop more sustainable models for news.”

Their offer, part of the Digital News Initiative, has been announced just weeks after the corporation was accused of giving its own services higher rankings in search results and threatened with a £4.4 billion fine from the European Union.

The funding, which will be spread over three years, is being made available to established publishers, online-only players and tech startups working on online news innovations.

Google's international head of news partnerships Madhav Chinnappa told Press Gazette the new scheme was unrelated to the inquiry the company is facing.

“It goes way back before that. It follows on from discussions we have been having since the end of last year with a group of publishers who we see as our critical friends,” Chinnappa said.

“This didn't happen in a week, this has been going on for some time. It’s really about our place in the news ecosystem. We’ve always felt we were a positive part of that ecosystem and we want to make sure that continues.”

Google’s own statement said the funds were being allocated to help publishers improve their web presence and stimulate innovation.

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“The goal is to help support a sustainable news ecosystem and promote innovation in digital journalism through ongoing collaboration and dialogue between the tech and news sectors. The DNI will seek to extend its work to other European publishers and anyone involved in Europe’s digital news industry will be able to take part in any or all of its elements.”

The scheme will include working with the publishers to develop products and ways of increasing traffic to their sites.

“Through the Digital News Initiative, Google will work hand in hand with news publishers and journalism organizations to help develop more sustainable models for news. This is just the beginning, and we invite others to join us,” Google president of strategic relationships in Europe Carlo D'Asaro Biondo said in a statement.

According to Quartz’s analysis, Google controls more than 90 percent of the search engine market in Europe and made £12 billion in revenue during 2013.

However, media heavyweights News Corp and the German Axel Springer have criticized Google in the past and remain notably absent from the list of founding partners.

D’Asaro Biondo told the FT he hopes that one day the publishers will join the initiative.

“We would love it, we are always open to them. We do believe pragmatism always wins. We will continue to do everything we can to show them we deserve trust.”

The Guardian’s international director Tony Danker expressed faith in Google’s motives.

“The question is: does Google believe this too? The reason why the Guardian and seven other European publishers have worked together to launch this initiative is a belief that it is in Google’s self-interest to do something critical: use its power to support a vibrant and sustainable ecosystem for news and journalism.”