Do no evil: Google’s Digital News Initiative is a bad deal

Want to know how to win friends and influence publishers: give them money.

So much for Google’s “Do no evil” mantra. Its decision to launch a “Digital News Initiative” with eight news publishers in Europe is a clear effort to influence news coverage and political activity.

Publishers that value their integrity and know journalism should just say no.


Google is facing a European Union investigation into allegations that it has abused its monopoly positions in online search and has improperly bundled its Android apps.

Despite the timing, Google insists that the digital initiative is not simply a P.R. effort or an attempt to discourage major media from undermining the company’s business goals. Sure.

In Google’s early years, it declared that one of the ten things it knew to be true was, “You can make money without doing evil.” Apparently it’s changed its mind.

At the same time, newspapers used to believe that their job was to be speak the unvarnished truth. As Adolph S. Ochs, the founding father of the modern New York Times, declared more than a century ago, 100 years ago, the paper was committed “…to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved…” Apparently some newspapers trying to adapt to the new digital world have changed their mind, too.

Google announced today (April 28) that the initiative will initially have eight publishing partners: the Financial Times; Les Echos in France; NRC Media in the Netherlands; El Pais in Spain; La Stampa in Italy, Faz and Die Zeit in Germany; and the Guardian in the U.K. Publications from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp are noticeably absent.

Founding partners also include The European Journalism Centre (EJC), The Global Editors Network (GEN), and The International News Media Association (INMA). Publications from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp are noticeably absent.

Under the partnership, Google plans:

  • to work with the publishers to establish a ‘product working group’ to enable a close, on-going dialogue exploring product developments to increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement
  • Create a €150m ($164 million) innovation fund to support and stimulate innovation in digital news journalism over the next three years.
  • Invest in new training and development resources for journalists and newsrooms across Europe

News publishers may try to rationalize such a partnership with Google, but the fact is this does not auger well for the their independence. As the saying goes, you are judged by the company you keep.


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