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How Google envisions the future of journalism

From the prospect of innovation to the challenges of the industry, Google has offered an optimistic prognosis for journalism. DW caught up with Google's head of publishing and news in Europe to discuss the details.

With the proliferation of new technologies threatening to upend journalism as we know it, news outlets have concerned themselves with how to reinvent their existence online.

DW caught up with Gerrit Rabenstein, who heads Google's strategic partnerships, publishing and news in Europe, at the International Press Institute's World Congress to discuss how technology can help shape the future of journalism in a positive way.

Deutsche Welle: How do you envision the future of journalism?

I see so many new initiatives at the grassroots level that are extremely colorful and very innovative, and sometimes trying to go deep and far. I'm extremely optimistic we will find new ways.

Those ways will look different than the ways we do news business today, the ways legacy players do today. But I'm sure that from this new wave of journalistic makers, new ideas will emerge.

How do you envision Google's role in facilitating this future for journalism?

We are participating with small and big startups, institutions and academics within the Digital News Initiative in a discussion about the future of journalism. We are engaging there in a discussion about new business models, about new ways of distributing content.

In the discussion with the news industry, we are one player among others. Journalists play a role, publishers play a role, tech companies play a role.

We'd love to see more tech companies engaging in this discussion, because I honestly and seriously only believe that we can solve the problems facing the industry if we come together and think from our different perspectives on this hard nut to crack: What does sustainable journalism look like in the future?

Gerrit Rabenstein (Privat)

Google Head of Strategic Relations Gerrit Rabenstein

What are the challenges to bringing about this future Google is helping to build?

The challenge for the news ecosystem is that the changes taking place in the industry are happening so incredibly fast. We went from print to digital, from digital to mobile. Tomorrow, the topic will be machine learning.

So you have to build your news production company a new engine while its still running. The challenges don't get smaller. The challenges remain, or even increase or accelerate.

In this complex world for news, there is no single silver bullet. The answer will be addressed very precisely for one player, and each player has to find the answer that fits for him or her.

Concerning so-called "fake news," which many in the industry have seen as an existential threat, how does Google tackle this problem?

We work on the topic of false news or misinformation at various ends. Internally, we updated our guidelines and made them much more strict. We launched something called the "fact check" label, which is open source software that a publisher can add to an article, a fact-checked article, and we can better surface that to an asked question.

We also updated our rater guidelines so that the folks who have a second look at the quality of search results can better understand what would be a good search result for a certain query.

At the same time, we are also working with external partners. We are partners of the First Draft coalition of 2015, which is an open forum to engage in the verification of content. We worked with the First Draft organization and many publications during the French presidential election, and now we're working with them on the German parliamentary election.

We also engage with the topic of misinformation at the Digital News Initiative fund. We fund 25 projects that were established in 2015 and 2016, way before it became a major topic of public interest. We support those projects that tackle misinformation and hate speech from their different perspectives. So we tackle it both internally and externally.

If you could say one thing to journalists, what would you say?

Don't ask "why," ask "why not. " We all have to open up our minds to the possibilities and chances that are out there. I'm not saying there aren't challenges. I'm completely aware that it's very difficult, but we can overcome them if we ask: "Why don't we try this?" Let's give it a try.

Gerret Rabenstein is the Head of Strategic Partnerships, News and Publishing at Google. He supports Google's partners in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as part of the newly founded Digital News Initiative.

This interview was conducted by Lewis Sanders IV.

 

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