March 20, 2018

Google has taken its share of criticism from journalists over the years, but on Tuesday it announced several new initiatives that should put it back in their good graces for several years.

After several months of behind-the-scenes coordination with various players, including the Poynter Institute, the company made a major announcement in an event space called the Garage in New York: Google will be committing $300 million over the next three years to "strengthen quality journalism" under the umbrella of an effort it’s calling the Google News Initiative.

The new project contains three large components:

  • Subscribe with Google. This will allow people to sign up for news subscriptions using the existing billing information Google already has on file.

  • Disinfo Lab. Set up in conjunction with the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School, it’s designed "to combat mis- and disinformation during elections and breaking news moments."

  • MediaWise. This is a collaborative effort between Poynter, Stanford University and the Local Media Association to develop a digital literacy curriculum. (Read our announcement.)

Poynter, which is already home to the International Fact-Checking Network as well as the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, will also be launching a fact-checking venture in which teens will work with professional journalists to sort out fact vs. fiction on the internet. The fact checks will be done with graphics, memes and videos, and will be spread across various platforms to help fight hoaxes or false stories that are catching teens’ attention. (We’ll be posting jobs for this initiative soon, so watch this space.)

The MediaWise project, which is aimed at students from middle school upward, will also turn to some intriguing celebrities to help: YouTube stars.

John Green is one of the YouTube creators who has a large pre-teen and teen following. (Screengrab from video)

Contributing YouTube creators include a CrashCourse series hosted by the uber-popular John Green (who’s also the author of young adult novels like “The Fault in Our Stars”) and several Smarter Every Day episodes featuring Destin Sandlin. The dynamic team of Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown will transfer the teachings towards STEM learning through their ASAP Science channel.

Several YouTube influencers are donating their time to the initiative. Additional collaborators include Ingrid Nilsen, Alonzo Lerone and Mark Watson, better known as Soldier Knows Best.

Here’s a lengthy blog post from Google’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler.

And this is what the subscription sign-up will look like:


Quick hits

QUITE THE CONTRAST: Mere hours after Google announced its initiative, Facebook employees were meeting at their headquarters in a town hall to discuss the Cambridge Analytica debacle. But two key players were missing, reports Spencer Ackerman in the Daily Beast: Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. Instead, the session was conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to an anonymous source.

SPEAKING OF CAMBRIDGE: Whatever effects they had in the U.S. or U.K., it’s bound to be much worse in the developing countries they claimed to be operating in, reports New York Magazine. An excerpt: “One of the most striking examples of the global power of the new generation of internet companies is their ability (and willingness) to use smaller and developing countries as testing grounds for their new products — in particular, for initiatives they couldn’t get away with in the U.S.”

RUNNERS ARE CONSCIENTIOUS: Do you enjoy anime? You’re probably not extroverted. Like listening to The Smiths? You’re probably neurotic. At least, that’s what Cambridge Analytica’s personality assessment thinks of you. The New York Times tracked how the maligned firm’s researchers turned Facebook users’ likes and favorites into character assessments. They then used that data to pitch services to clients like Mastercard and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

YOUTUBE GETS AGGRESSIVE: But sadly, it was for the wrong thing. The video site removed from searches the “Hail, Trump” video that Atlantic reporter Daniel Lombroso had captured at a speech by white supremacist Richard Spencer just weeks after the election of Donald Trump. In removing it from all public searches and closing comments, YouTube said the video bordered on hate speech. After a complaint by The Atlantic on Monday, it was restored to search results and its comments reopened.

NABJ FOUNDER DIES: Pulitzer Prize-winner Les Payne died unexpectedly on Monday night at the age of 76. Payne wrote for Newsday in a career that spanned four decades and several continents. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer in 1974 for a 33-part series that followed the growth of heroin in Turkey to the American streets it was sold on. Payne was also a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. He retired from Newsday in 2006.

FLYING BLIND: While local news reporters might moan about having to write the perennial “flu hits _____ hard” story, there’s a group that depends on those write-ups: epidemiologists. And with so many counties across the country now without a local newspaper — so-called news deserts — they are sounding the alarm about what effect it will have on mapping outbreaks, reports STAT.

HER TOO? A former Playboy model is suing the owners of the National Enquirer for buying and burying the story of her alleged extramarital affair with President Trump. Karen McDougal says American Media Inc. paid her $150,000 for her silence during the 2016 campaign but hasn’t lived up to the rest of the deal — a monthly column in OK! and Star magazines and several monthly posts on Radar Online. The story echoes previous news about Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, including alleged tryst locations and offers of gifts.  

REDDIT REWARDS: Not that anyone expected it, but this has to make the social engagement team at the Dallas Morning News happy:

What we're reading

THE RIGHT: After a man threatened to hurt someone, police used a controversial law to take away his guns — all 81 of them. A powerful narrative, by the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow.

BIG: The giant heads of Easter Island are being threatened by rising seawater. 

UNEQUAL PAY? The BBC seeks to defend itself after revelation it paid John McEnroe at least 10 times more than Martina Navratilova for commentary at Wimbledon.

HELLO. IT'S ME: The White House confirmed the Kremlin's claim that President Trump phoned Russian PresideVladimirmir Putin to congratulate him on his election win. Leaders on other countries have withheld from such a call because Putin's strongest opponent was barred from even appearing on the ballot. 

New on

  • Writing coach Roy Peter Clark had some words of advice when he spoke to 600 U.N. Model students last week: Be a skeptic, not a cynic.
  • The site is back in the control of its founder. If you haven't been keeping up with the intense legal drama surrounding the site, this piece by Daniel Funke will get you up to speed.

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