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

A note from Google about community news and how it intends to support Canadian news producers like Village Media through the Google News Showcase
Google's logo is pictured on one of the buildings situated in Googleplex, the company's main campus in Silicon Valley. Andrei/Adobe Stock

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 it has operated under for decades no longer work as well in our new, digital world. 

I’ve built my career 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 Village Media, a fully digital news service that began with a single website in Sault Ste. Marie 15 years ago and has expanded to communities across Ontario, including Newmarket, North Bay, Timmins, Barrie and Guelph. 

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 the Ontario 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, FP Newspapers, Glacier Media, The Globe and Mail, Métro Média, Narcity Media, SaltWire Network and Village Media. 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, 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.