With 120+ News Publishers Signed On, Google Opens Applications For $170M DNI Innovation Fund

Search giant Google today is taking the next step in its bid to rehabilitate its relationship with the news and publishing industry.

In Europe today, the company is opening up applications for startups and others who are interested in receiving grants from Google’s Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund: Google has put aside €150 million ($170 million) for startups and others building new services, products and technologies for the news industry, and it will give out in grants twice a year, typically ranging from €50,000 to €1 million, but occasionally higher, with no strings attached, Google said today:

“We’re looking for projects that demonstrate new thinking in the practice of digital journalism; that support the development of new business models, or maybe even change the way users consume digital news,” writes Ludovic Blecher of Google, who heads the DNI Innovation Fund. “Projects can be highly experimental, but must have well-defined goals and have a significant digital component. There is no requirement to use any Google products. Successful projects will show innovation and have a positive impact on the production of original digital journalism and on the future sustainability of the news business.”

At the same time, Google said that it now has over 120 news organizations in its Digital News Initiative, the European umbrella group for the fund, which was first announced in April with 11 members and a pledge to work on projects and products focused on high quality journalism. It includes publishers like Die Zeit, FAZ and Der Spiegel, the Guardian, Financial Times, the BBC, The Economist, La Stampa, El Pais and Les Echos.

Since then, the DNI has been working on training by way of projects like the Google News Lab. And some of the work that the DNI has been running and funding also formed a cornerstone of Google’s recently announced AMP (accelerated mobile pages) project, tech that Google has developed to produce faster-loading sites for smaller screens.

The €150 million fund was actually first made public in April, but now, as part of the application process opening up, Google is laying out more details about how it will work, who is eligible and more.

Grants will be open to any individual or organization working on innovations in online news — and that can range from startups through to established news publishers. Google says that application rounds will run twice each year, with the first starting today and closing December 4. (The next will be in spring 2016.)

Google says that funding will fall into three categories:

  • Prototype projects that need up to €50,000 of funding. “These projects should be very early stage, with ideas yet to be designed and assumptions yet to be tested. We will fast-track such projects and will fund 100% of the total cost,” Google says.

  • Medium projects that need up to €300,000 of funding. “We will accept funding requests up to 70% of the total cost of the project,” it notes.

  • Large projects open to organisations that need more than €300,000. “We will accept funding requests up to 70% of the total cost of the project. Funding is capped at €1 million,” says Google.

There may be exceptions to the €1 million cap, Google says. All of this is irrespective of whatever other funding a company or person may get for the work in question. That means you may also be getting VC backing. Google does not take any equity as a result of the DNI grant.

Google is, in general, making quite some effort here to make sure that it’s as unbiased as it can be when considering and awarding grants.

Google says it has “consulted widely to ensure that the Fund has inclusive and transparent application and selection processes. Confidentiality is critical; applicants should not share business-sensitive or highly confidential information.”

It adds that initial selection for the first two tiers of projects will be done by a Project team, which will be a mix of Google staff and external industry figures. Then the Fund’s Council (12 people currently, listed below)  will review and decide further. The Council will both sift and decide on the “Large” projects.

While there are a number of ways of getting funding for startups today — indeed we’re in something of a high water mark for VC funding more generally — the idea here is to try to give some oxygen to projects in the lesser-explored corners of Europe and the wider ecosystem. At a time when there is a huge emphasis on the news industry dying, this might be a ripe moment to step in and offer a little lifeline in the form of some money for new ideas.

Google has come under fire for having a fractious relationship with the news industry, with many publishers criticising the search giant and its own content efforts for effectively making it too easy to bypass their own sites (and business models) to provide consumers with news. Some have held out against Google while others have caved in somewhat reluctantly to a company that essentially dominates how people navigate to information on the Internet today.

But Google has had a lot of heat both in terms of bad publicity for being a giant bully, and from regulators, and it is now looking for a more conciliatory approach, one perhaps less evil.

Council members :

  1. Joao Palmeiro, President of the Portuguese publishers association and Chair of the DNI Innovation Fund Council

  2. Alexander Asseily, Founder & CEO of State, Founder of Jawbone

  3. Arianna Ciccone, Co-Founder and Director of the Perugia International Journalism Festival

  4. Bartosz Hojka, CEO of Agora S.A.

  5. Katharina Borchert, MD Online, Der Spiegel

  6. Veit Dengler, CEO, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  7. Rosalia Lloret, Head of Institutional Relations, Online Publishers’ Association Europe

  8. Bruno Patino, Dean of Sciences-Po Journalism School

  9. Murdoch MacLennan, CEO of the Telegraph Media Group

  10. Madhav Chinnappa, Head of Strategic Relations, News and Publishers, Google

  11. Torsten Schuppe, Director of Marketing EMEA, Google

  12. Ronan Harris, Vice President, Google