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May 28, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:20am

Google relief fund to help 5,000 local newsrooms worldwide during Covid-19 crisis

By Freddy Mayhew

Google’s emergency relief fund for journalism will stretch into the tens of millions, providing succour to more than 5,300 local newsrooms across the globe during the coronavirus crisis, it has announced.

In the UK, more than 100 local newsrooms will benefit from the funding, which is being rushed out as publishers struggle with an advertising downturn that has severely impacted revenues.

Google has confirmed so far that radio station Channel 103 in Jersey and local titles Altrincham Today and Rochdale Online will receive support in the UK, with a full breakdown of recipients to follow later.

The fund opened last month to small and medium-sized news outfits “producing original news for local communities during this time of crisis”.

Google received more than 12,000 applications from 140 countries, the vast majority of which were from newsrooms with fewer than 26 journalists. Half of the applications did not meet Google’s strict criteria.

Multiple funding applications from different publications within the same publishing group were permitted.

Funding will range from $5,000-$30,000 (£4,000-£24,000) for each recipient, capped at $85,000 (£69,000) for a publisher with multiple publications receiving support.

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The fund has been something of passion project for the Google News Initiative (formerly the Digital News Initiative) with staff volunteering to help out and some 300 people working on it worldwide.

“We feel pretty proud and humble that we are able to help that many people,” Madhav Chinnappa, director of news ecosystem development at Google, said of the number of newsrooms the fund will support.

However the central question of whether Google is doing enough to give back to publishers remains at a time when they are shifting online as print, already in decline, bears the brunt of the Covid-19 downturn.

Google is almost entirely ad-funded and dominates UK digital ad spend – the same pot of money that online publishers are competing for.

Already Google is showing signs of recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, with share prices bouncing back while ad-reliant publishers continue to suffer.

A number of digital-only news outlets, such as Buzzfeed and Vice, have been forced to cut back their news operations and make redundancies in recent weeks. Vice’s boss pointed the finger at the tech giants.

“Google only makes money when publishers make money through our ad tech,” Chinnappa explained of the tech giant’s revenue sharing model.

He said Google set up its news initiative expressly to “work with the news industry in dialogue about what we should be doing [to help]” as news publishers faced up to the challenges of the digital age.

The GNI is there “to help with the sustainability of the news eco-system,” said Chinnappa. It has worked with publishers to encourage and support innovation and pivoted to financial relief during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Globally what I see is many publishers realise that one source of revenue is not the way to go and it’s about actually expanding and comping up with multiple sources of revenue that are sustainable and are able to sustain the news operation that they want,” said Chinnappa.

Picture: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

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