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Google, the media patron
How the digital giant ensnares journalism
The study describes how Google has funnelled more than 200 million euro in cash gifts to European media since 2013, while at the same time the company has resisted political efforts in Europe to force it to share advertising revenue with ailing publishing houses. Google’s first fund was created in France in 2013 to appease publishers calling for a “Google tax” on digital advertising. This provided a template for the future, as the study’s analysis of the origins of the Google News Initiative shows. The study describes how Google’s attention and gifts have transformed the relationship between the Silicon Valley company and German publishing houses. Findings are based on anonymised interviews with 25 German media executives and journalists covering digital media, a data analysis of 645 projects funded by Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI) in Europe between 2015 and 2019, as well as a survey on the use of Google tools among German media houses. The research is flanked by an interview with two key figures in Google’s European news division and supported by an in-depth analysis of source material on origins of Google’s journalism initiative.
- Of Google’s giving to media between 2015 and 2019, the bulk of the money went to long-established Western European publishers. Commercial publishing businesses account for 70 percent of Google’s funding within the Digital News Initiative. Only 9 percent of funding went to non-profit and public service media companies, with other funds going to research institutions, individuals and non-journalistic media start-ups. The median founding date of funded organisations is 1996, which shows Google’s funding favours incumbent companies. (The company says funding decisions are made by experts and industry leaders on the board of its News Initiative, but it hand-picks who sits on that board.) While Google is not transparent about funding figures for media, the study is able to drawn on a data gathered from publishers and publicly available information.
- Interviews with publishing executives show that while most of them were sceptical of Google’s motives and several interviewees described the company’s funding as a PR exercise, the money was often spent on key innovation projects within publishing houses. “Well, we wouldn’t have done it otherwise, because we simply can’t afford it”, one manager told the authors.
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