Google vows to foster innovation in journalism

Sundar Pichai’s keynote in Paris

24 February 2016

Caterina Visco @vischella

"News is very important to what Google does. Our role is to enable innovation in journalism."

This is the reassuring message that Sundar Pichai, Google's new CEO, sent out to journalists and journalism students, during his speech at Sciences Po (Institut d'études politiques de Paris or “Paris Institute of Political Studies”) today.

The event’s tagline was “Knowledge for Everyone” and this idea has always been very dear to Pichai: “I want Google to strive to do that — not just build technology for certain segments. For me, it matters that we drive technology as an equalising force, as an enabler for everyone around the world”, he said in an interview with The Verge last March, when he still was Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome and Apps.

Pichai reinforced this message in his speech today: “I believe in the incredibly empowering and democratising effect of putting knowledge in the hands of everyone, everywhere.” He went on to explain that Google is “committed to making knowledge available to more people, no matter where they may be, no matter what language they speak, no matter how they are accessing the Internet”. He produced many examples, from Google Cardboard (which democratises Virtual Reality) to YouTube (“anyone can create something that anyone can see”), to their partnership with Chambers of Commerce across France to provide digital training for small business employees. “So far, we've trained more than 50,000 SMBs through our Google Pour les Pros programme,” he said.


Pichai also discussed the Digital News Initiative (DNI), a partnership between Google and 160 news publishers in Europe aimed to promote innovation and technology in journalism. Today he announced that the first round of applications has ended and the projects have been evaluated. The Innovative Fund connected with the DNI will offer 27 million euros in grants for 128 projects in 23 countries. Here’s Google official blog post, with some of the winners, like the German Spectrm, that wants to enable publishers to distribute their content via Messenger.

In an interview with GEN last April, Madhav Chinnappa, head of the DNI, described the initiative as “a framework for dialogue, a shared goal of a sustainable news ecosystem and the promotion of innovation in digital journalism through ongoing collaboration and dialogue between the tech and news sectors”.

Pichai also officially launched Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in six European countries, and Google’s partnership with several French media organisations like Les Echos, Ouest France, 20 Minutes, and TF1 for this project. AMP is Google’s open-source project that aims to improve the mobile web experience. AMP promises a faster, more lightweight user experience. “With AMP, articles will load four times faster and consume ten time less data”, he explained.

This article from Nieman Lab lays out all the possible implications of Google AMP for publishers. It’s safe to say that with this project —  along with Facebook’s Instant Articles — publishers will soon be forced to  find solutions for a faster mobile experience. Either they will have to join one or both of these Silicon Valley giants or design and implement a plan of their own. Audiences will expect faster pages from now on, and they will follow those who can provide them. The Accelerated Mobile Pages, as Dan Gillmor hints in this article on Medium, seem to be a way for publisher to still be, somehow, in control of how their content is distributed via mobile. Gillmor's articles offers many other interesting insights on this project, that has been already joined by "more than 1,000 domains — including many major media companies — and, so far, 33 countries." AMP, for instance, will be enabled by defaul for all WordPress blogs.

Pichai also announced that Google’s Project Shield, a cybersecurity tool to help news sites to protect themselves from being hacked by DDoS attacks, will be free for all independent news organisations worldwide. “We are offering this to every publication so they can protect themselves from DDoS attacks”, said Pichai.

As GEN reported last October in an article about how newsrooms can protect themselves from cyber attacks, Project Shield "was built out of a basic prototype that enables publishers to route their traffic through Google, acting as a shield between hackers and their target" and "currently protects several hundred publishers from more than 45 countries worldwide." Interviewed by GEN, CJ Adams, Google Ideas Product Manager who oversees Project Shield, highlighted how often times conflicts in the digital world mirror those in the real one: "If people are in the streets and depend on the internet for information, you can expect DDoS attacks to follow."

 “Meaningful DDoS protection is crazy expensive,” said CJ Adams. “Without it, anyone can be censored online. We started Project Shield to protect free expression by making sure that publishers didn't have to pay money to stay online in the face of an attack.” 

Today’s event was Pichai’s first stop of his first tour of Europe as CEO. He will travel to Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress, and to Brussels to meet the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager to discuss that commission’s antitrust probe against Google’s search engine.

You can read all the tweets related to the event under the hashtag #SundarParis or by visiting @GENinnovate. You can also watch the replay of the event: