GOOGLE

COVID proved that local news is a lifeline. We’re investing in its future

By Sabrina Geremia,

Vice President and Country Manager, Google Canada

The last 16 months have taught us a lot about ourselves. We’re incredibly resilient. We’re compassionate. We can rise to challenges that we couldn’t have imagined at the start of 2020, which feels like a century ago.

The pandemic has also taught us we have a deep and abiding need for other people. We need a shared sense of common experience and common values that’s best summed up in one word: community. And when we lose that sense of community, we feel the loss intensely.

For more than a century, local media – especially newspapers – have played an essential role in the lives of our communities, shaping them and reflecting them back to us. Growing up, our local paper was an anchor for my family. My dad read it every night, and I still have clippings from my time in high school sports.

Today, local media is as valued as it’s ever been. But the economic and technological models that local media operated under for decades don’t work as well in our new, digital world.

I work in technology. I see it as a force for good in people’s lives. I don’t need any further proof than when I see my aging father, who’s sheltering in place on the family farm, virtually visiting with his grandkids every day. And I also believe that digital transformation and a thriving local media ecosystem are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe there’s an incredible opportunity for us to use technology to bring more vital, important news and information into the lives of people than ever before.

That’s what’s driving Google Canada’s new partnership with community news organizations across Canada, including Black Press Media, home to over 170 publications and some of the oldest and most established newspapers in B.C. and Alberta. And where coverage reaches all the way to Canada’s North.

It’s called Google News Showcase, and it’s a new product and licensing program that provides a customizable space for news content in Google News and Discover, our two most popular news and information portals. What that means for publishers in B.C., Alberta, and across Canada is that they’ll be paid for the content they generate. What that means for Canadians is that they can access richer news content and support journalism by using the product. It also helps them experience the benefits of subscribing to authoritative news outlets.

Google News Showcase is supporting regional and national news producers. We just announced deals with publishers that include Black Press Media, Glacier Media, Globe and Mail, Métro Média, Narcity Media, SaltWire Networks, Village Media and Winnipeg Free Press. Together, these publishers represent national, regional and community news organizations from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

We’re also committed to helping journalists and journalism students strengthen their digital skills. One thousand Canadian journalists have already participated in our journalism training programs, and we’re adding capacity for 5,000 more over the next three years. We’re also offering a series of workshops through our Google News Initiative, in English and French, for small and mid-sized news organizations, who we know have been most impacted by digital transformation.

The workshops will focus on data and product development, as well as growing audiences, revenue and advertising – all essential to their long-term sustainability. And we’re now offering Canadian publishers free access to our News Consumer Insights program. It’s a source of analytical data to help inform business decisions that in turn drives profits and builds deeper relationships with readers.

All of this is focused on one goal, at the end of the day, and that’s supporting our communities. As we move out of the pandemic and back to a more normal life, one of the lessons I hope we never forget is just how important local and community news has been to our health and well-being. When people Googled questions like “Is school open?” or “Where do I get my parents vaccinated?” or “What can I do to support my kid’s mental health?,” our results likely steered them to local news for the answer.

Through Google News Showcase and our other programs, Google Canada is making a strong statement of support for independent journalism, for local and community news organizations, and for the crucial role they have played – and must go on playing – in keeping us informed, engaged, and connected. The pandemic is coming to an end, and it’s left us knowing that our need for community is stronger than ever.