By Danielle Abril
March 20, 2019

A year into a $300 million push to support journalism, Google is introducing new tools to fight fake news.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled a tool that helps news organizations tag stories that debunk misinformation so that Google News can more easily feature it. Another new tool provides journalists with a database of all stories with that tag so that they can find those fact-checking stories.

The new tools were developed under the Google News Initiative, a program the company debuted last year to put its news efforts under one umbrella. It follows years of criticism by media outlets that Google has helped to decimate the news business by siphoning off ad revenue, helping spread fake news, and stealing content.

But Google says it’s trying to do just the opposite, and that the Google News Initiative plays a big role in that.

“It’s been a bit of a misnomer that we’re in conflict with the publishers,” said Bonita Stewart, Google’s vice president of partnerships. “The reality is we’re in business with them. When they make money, that’s when we make money.”

For Google, partnering with the news industry also means constantly working to filter misinformation from its top search results and to promote quality news. The two new fact-checking tools, which are free for news and fact-checking organizations, are one way Google aims to improve its search engine.

The fact check tag allows Google News to feature the latest stories that debunk misinformation under a “Fact check” column that debuted in 2016. The tags also help Google make those stories more prominent in its search results.

Another way Google is fighting fake news is by giving money to fact-checking organizations and to media literacy programs globally. The Google News Initiative also includes a $10 million media literacy campaign with Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, to help young people tell the difference between real and fake news.

Additionally, last year Google kicked off $25 million program with YouTube to support video news and pledged another $5 million for helping improving the audio capabilities of news organizations, such as for podcasting or radio.

Google also serves as a founding partner of First Draft, a nonprofit that brings journalists, academics, and technologists together, to combat misinformation on a larger scale. And Google works with news organizations to build free tools to help those groups overcome technical challenges and to provide technical expertise in areas like machine learning.

“We think about it in three pillars,” said Olivia Ma, director and co-founder of Google’s NewsLab, which focuses on newsroom innovation. “How are we improving our products to demote low quality an information; how are we working with newsrooms; and how are we empowering individuals to be more savvy content online?”

Despite the criticism over the years, Google said it wants to help media companies make money. Google has a pool of 1,800 news organizations that it sometimes taps for insight about how it can help increase the news industry’s revenue.

Last year, Google said that it funneled $14 billion in revenue to all types of publishers through its advertising tools. It also debuted “Subscribe with Google,” a feature that lets Google users subscribe by merely clicking a button. Google collects a commission on each subscription that is funneled through the technology.

The company is expanding Subscribe with Google to news organizations that have donation or membership-based business models, Google announced on Wednesday. It’s also working with media partners like The Washington Post to develop a tool that would help media companies better identify which online readers are more likely to subscribe. Based on data and analytics, Google says it can help news groups tailor their ads so that they differentiate between regular readers who are likely to subscribe and casual readers who aren’t.

Beth Diaz, vice president of audience development and analytics at The Washington Post, said the Post is experimenting with the tool, called Propensity to Subscribe, and providing Google with feedback. The newspaper similarly experimented with Google tools like AMP, which provided media organizations with a way to instantly publish mobile-friendly versions of their content.

“This is such a rapidly changing environment in terms of how we make money, how people consume our content, and how we distribute our content,” Diaz said. “We are doing everything we can to be nimble.”

McClatchy, the publisher of newspapers like the Miami Herald, also has worked with Google to experiment with new tools for ads and for better storytelling. Andrew Pergam, McClatchy’s vice president of news operations and news ventures, said the relationship with Google is give and take.

“To be clear, it’s not always perfect,” Pergam said. “But we’ve found them to be mature about how they’re organizing themselves and understanding how we run our business.”

Google isn’t alone in its efforts to extend an olive branch to journalists. Facebook, which similarly has been criticized for hurting the news industry, also recently announced plans to strengthen media organizations. On Tuesday, the social media giant introduced the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, a program that will offer grants and technical support to projects aimed at building community through local news. It also shared data that identified specific geographic regions as “news deserts,” or communities with insufficient news. It left it mostly up to other organizations to pour resources into those news deserts so that they bloom.

Meanwhile, Google is planning what’s next for its $300 million news initiative over the next three years. Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google, said the effort will extend far beyond that window and that Google had already been working on the problem for 15 years prior—only that it was more fragmented.

Although Google has tried to build relationships with media organizations and help them succeed, it still has more work to do—which Gingras is fully aware of.

“It’s a work in progress that requires many strands of effort across many challenges,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

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