Google unveils plans to boost news subscriptions and combat fake news

Google News Initiative

Google says it is committing $300 million over the next three years to help "strengthen quality journalism."

On Tuesday, the search company announced several new tools and partnerships with newsrooms, all placed under an umbrella called the Google News Initiative.

Google held a press briefing in New York to promote the new efforts.

The most significant part might be a new feature called Subscribe with Google. People will be able to sign up for news subscriptions with the existing billing information Google already has on file, thus eliminating some of the hassle associated with web subscriptions.

Google has already been testing this feature with papers like The Washington Post. "We're committed to building a product that works for publishers of various shapes and sizes," the company said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Subscription revenue is a top priority for many publishers -- in part because tech giants like Google have a tight grip on the digital advertising marketplace.

Google and Facebook are often depicted as a "digital duopoly" because they capture more than half of U.S. digital ad spending.

With that as the backdrop, both companies have been trying to portray themselves as friends, not foes, of cash-strapped media companies. Facebook has a subscription-boosting initiative underway as well.

Google's announcements were met with a mix of predictable optimism and cynicism among journalists.

The $300 million commitment was certainly welcomed. The money will be spent on a number of different projects.

There's a Disinfo Lab, set up with the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School, "to combat mis- and disinformation during elections and breaking news moments."

There's also a new project called MediaWise -- a partnership with Poynter Institute, Stanford University, and the Local Media Association to develop a digital literacy curriculum.

Poynter said MediaWise is "aimed at helping middle and high school students be smarter consumers of news and information online."

Popular video makers on Google's YouTube site are being enlisted to promote digital literacy skills. The National Association for Media Literacy Education is also involved.

At Tuesday's press event, Google pointed out that it has been collaborating with media companies for 15 years. The company has made numerous investments to help newsrooms in the past, although never at this scale.

"We invested a lot time and energy in these collaborations," Google's chief business officer Philipp Schindler said in a blog post. "But the hard truth is -- all of this might not be enough. It's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish what's true and what's not online. Business models for journalism continue to change drastically. The rapid evolution of technology is challenging all institutions, including the news industry -- to keep pace. We need to do more."

His argument, echoed by other Google executives, is that Google's business benefits when the journalism landscape is thriving, because Google search results can surface more accurate information for users.

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