ON TUESDAY, GOOGLE ANNOUNCED it would partner with McClatchy to fund three, new local news entities in communities of less than 500,000 people. This marks a change in how quickly the news business is being absorbed into the fringes of large technology businesses. For the first time, a major technology company is working directly with news executives to set up a local news operation, which it proposes to fund.
Craig Forman, chief executive of McClatchy describes the effort as a true “collaboration” in which the McClatchy team will work with experts at Google. Though Google “is helping support the effort financially,” Forman wrote in a press release on the Google blog, “the sites will be 100 percent McClatchy owned and operated and McClatchy will maintain sole editorial control and ownership of the content.
Just in case we are in any doubt, he reiterates that “Google will have no input or involvement in any editorial efforts or decision making.”
It is hard to know what it will look like to have experts from Google collaborating with McClatchy staff without any editorial input. Everyone who has built a successful news product online knows that the technical architecture, tools, software, and analytics applied to journalism inevitably end up shaping aspects of editorial content. In fact, one of the most common errors in newsrooms is the failure to properly integrate “product” into the newsroom, or to properly take into account the technological environment into which they are publishing.
No company has done more to fund and support journalism over the past decade than Google. It is almost impossible to attend a news conference, hear about experimentation in newsrooms, or even look at journalism research without seeing Google’s name on the funding credits. The expansion into the US of Google’s Digital News Initiative, which has spent more than a hundred million Euros on news innovations in Europe, has so far included high-profile investments into Report for America—and now the McClatchy initiative.
Because so little advertising money remains available to publications, and reader revenue has not met that shortfall, the expensive job of innovation in newsrooms increasingly means asking “What would Google want?”—influencing what newsrooms choose to develop, from virtual reality, to voice skills, to photo libraries.