Google hasn’t always enjoyed the best of relationships with news websites, publishers arguing that search results often show a large enough excerpt from the story that people don’t need to click through to the site, especially within the Google News tab. This has been especially true in Europe, where non-English publications are fighting for a much smaller potential readership.

The conflict came to a head in Spain last year, where the government passed a new law which would have required it to pay Spanish news sites for the excerpts shown in its search results, and Google responded by closing Google News in Spain. Although an unofficial compromise was found, grumblings by news sites have continued.

Google now believes its Digital News Initiative offers a three-pronged approach to tackling the “truly radical and challenging changes” being experienced in the media business within Europe … 

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Speaking at the FT Digital Media conference, Google’s European president of strategic partnerships Carlo D’Asaro Biondo said that while the Internet was often perceived as a threat to newspapers, it also represented a huge opportunity.

More people are accessing more information than ever in history. The number of smartphone users will soon exceed 2 billion. According to Mary Meeker the typical smartphone user checks his or her device 150 times a day.

This represents an opportunity to reach an audience far beyond the morning paper or evening news show of the past.

Google, he said,  recognized the importance of high-quality journalism, and had always wanted to be “a friend and partner” to the news industry, paying $10B to publishers around the world last year through AdSense and other programs. He acknowledged that the company had, however, made some mistakes along the way, and wanted to address these through three main initiatives.

  • Product development, geared to increasing revenue, traffic and audience engagement
  • Research and training programs for journalists, including journalism fellowships
  • Stimulating & supporting innovation in digital journalism, via grants to news organizations

The Digital News Initiative has the backing of some of the biggest names in European journalism, he said, naming The Guardian and The Financial Times in the UK, Die Zeit and FAZ from Germany, Les Echos from France, La Stampa from Italy, El Pais from Spain and NRC Media from the Netherlands.

Any other European news organization that wished to join would, said Biondo, be free to do so.

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