Google Launches $164 Million Partnership With European Newspapers, Offers Mea Culpa

Google Offices - H 2014
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

"Google has always wanted to be a friend and partner to the news industry, but I also accept we have made some mistakes," an executive at the online giant tells a London conference.

Google has launched a digital news partnership with eight European newspaper publishers and acknowledged past missteps in its interaction with news organizations.

The so-called Digital News Initiative, designed to nurture and fund digital journalism, was announced as the online giant has faced allegations of anti-competitive behavior by the European Commission.

The new partnership includes The Financial Times and The Guardian in the U.K., France’s Les Echos, Germany’s FAZ and Die Zeit, Spain’s El Pais, Italy’s La Stampa and Dutch firm NRC Group.

Publishers such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp have often complained about Google’s use of their content. News Corp has accused the company of abusing its market power and playing a key role in piracy.

The initiative said it would put together a working group focused on product development to “increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement,” with Google providing training, research, and a $164 million innovation fund over three years.

Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, head of Google’s strategic relationships in Europe, offered a mea culpa to media companies at the Financial Times Digital Media 2015 conference in London on Tuesday.

“We recognize that technology companies and news organizations are part of the same information ecosystem,” he said. “We want to play our part in the common fight to find more sustainable models for news.”

He highlighted that “Google recognizes and admires high-quality journalism,” adding, “Google has always wanted to be a friend and partner to the news industry, but I also accept we have made some mistakes…. We will achieve much more [when] journalism and technology work together.”

Biondo concluded: “We can do more. We can do better.”

He emphasized that Google does not plan to get into news creation itself and said the initiative was open to additional partners.

Asked if the initiative would be rolled out globally, Biondo said that remains to be seen, adding that Google felt the European continent was a logical first focus. “When I talk to publishers in Europe, I hear deep concern about their ongoing ability to fund great journalism,” he said.

“This is felt particularly on the continent. Perhaps the British and the Americans have it easier. In English, it is possible to build huge global audiences…. But I’m from Italy, and it is much more difficult for Italian newspapers and those from other countries with a smaller language base.”

Twitter: @georgszalai