media update’s Emma Beavon spoke to Mich Atagana, head of Google South Africa communications and public affairs, to find out what the GNI Innovation Challenge is, and why the company is interested in ensuring the growth, evolution and digitisation of the media industry.  

Why is Google investing in helping media transition to digital?

Today, news publishers in many parts of the world are grappling with questions of how quality journalism can thrive in the digital age. With economic models changing, declining print revenue and new ways in which people are consuming news, unprecedented challenges are facing the news industry. 

With these fast-paced changes, innovation has never been more important.  News organisations and startups are experimenting with new approaches to adapt to the changing consumption and business models.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, perhaps encapsulated this best when he said: “We believe in spreading knowledge to make life better for everyone. It’s at the heart of Google’s mission. It's the mission of publishers and journalists. Put simply, our futures are tied together.” 

Tell us a bit more about the Google News Initiative. What does the initiative do and how does it work?

Last year, we announced the Google News Initiative (GNI), the global umbrella that pulls together everything we do at Google to help news players in their transition to a digital future. 

The key pillars of the GNI are elevating and strengthening quality journalism, evolving business models to drive sustainable growth and empowering news organisations through technological innovation. 

The initiative seeks to help news organisations meet the needs of their growing digital businesses, collaborate with them to solve important business- and industry-wide challenges,  while also helping them to elevate and strengthen quality journalism. 

The initiative also develops and supports programmes, such as the GNI Innovation Challenge, to drive innovation and sustainable growth across the news industry.

How do Google’s products and programmes ensure that journalists and news organisations are keeping up with the new technologies and will continue to succeed in the digital era? 

We actively engage journalists and train them on how to work in the digital environment, giving them digital skills and teaching them how to use data [and] how to create data journalism stories with the many free products online — many of which we offer — such as Google Trends. 

There is also an arm of Google called Jigsaw that runs a program called Project Shield. The team works with small publishers and some large ones to protect their sites from distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks (a malicious attempt to disrupt a website, server or noetwork’s normal traffic by overwhelming them with a flood of Internet traffic). 

Who is the GNI important to and why is it important within the news media industry? 

[The GNI] is important for the public who rely on news organisations to keep them informed about what is going on in the world, the news media industry in its entirety as well as for Google, whose mission it is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. 

The GNI Innovation Challenge aims to highlight creative projects that demonstrate opportunities to increase reader engagement and support the development of new business models. 

How does this tie into the shift from traditional to digital media?

In this day and age, with more people choosing to use the Internet to get their news and entertainment, it’s undeniable that [an] online presence plays an integral part in media business models.  

We’re inviting proposals for projects to address increasing engagement with readers and / or exploring new business models in any form — such as subscriptions and membership programs — in order to support the business interests of media stakeholders.

The best part about innovation is that it can come from anywhere and everywhere. We want to make sure that all news organisations (large and small), legacy publishers as well as new entrants have the opportunity to inject new ideas and shape the future of the industry.  

How else do you think the media industry can transition to digital? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to know more about how the media industry is evolving with technology? Check out our Video: Are news-writing robots the new face of journalism?