Google has been the target of many an investigative journalism scoop, but today in the UK it’s sitting on the other side of the table. The search giant’s Digital News Initiative — the division that was created to give millions in funding to startups and new projects that are pushing the boundaries of digital news — has announced a new partnership with the Centre for Investigative Journalism to help journalists learn how use digital tools to dig up news.
The two will be jointly running 20 free workshops in the UK under the name “Access to Tools,” available both to freelancers and staff editors and writers, that will train them on some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to using digital media to find and report a story, including data analysis on spreadsheets, finding and ‘reading’ minutes from public meetings, and tracking down sources for images. Google says the workshops will use “technology from a range of providers” — not just Google. As for the content: the focus here seems to be on using these tools for digging up local news stories, not dirt on Google.
The efforts are Google’s latest moves to position itself as a friend, and not a foe, to the news industry. Over the years, the company has raised the hackles of many a publisher that has been unhappy with how Google either summarizes stories in Google News, or simply provides enough links around a subject from other sources that a user potentially never needs to visit a publication online to read the original source of the information — thereby depriving the news organisations of traffic and subsequent revenues that come with that traffic from advertising.
That scuffle between Google and the news industry has been going on for years, with the latest frontier being mobile. Google has developed a format for viewing stories on pages with accelerated loading times on mobile, but those stories (signified with a lightning bolt when you search on Google for a story on you mobile device) all get delivered on Google URLs. Now, as Google plans to expand its so-called AMP project to desktop, it has said it’s working on fixing that URL situation, although I’ve checked just now and those Google URLs are still there.
All of this comes at the same time that company is already under investigation by European regulators for its anticompetitive practices in areas like search and mobile.
Google’s News Initiative is one example of how Google is trying to offset all this controversy. Aimed at news organisations in Europe, the group provides no-strings-attached grants to businesses that are aiming to bring more innovation to the field using tech like AI, mobile and more. Google has also run training on its own steam through its News Lab, and also offers online courses. The CIJ association adds another layer of impartiality to the wider strategy.
For the CIJ, it gives the group some funding to bring more of their expertise to a wider set of journalists, and that on balance can only be a good thing.
“Our leading concern is to put the best tools in the hands of investigative journalists, and then grow their expertise in using them,” said CIJ director James Harkin. “Building on our 15 years of expertise in data journalism, advanced internet research, financial search, and internet-powered fact-checking and our relationships of trust with the corporate and independent local media, ‘Access to Tools’ is the perfect way to extend the already impressive reach of our regional network and to get out there into more regional newsrooms, communities, and universities.”