Follow the user – digital news in a digital world

Thanks for that introduction and for having me to speak today.

It’s an honour to be here at the Munich Media Days. The theme of this conference is how the media can find success in this era of digital disruption. And the theme of this talk suggests the answer: “follow the user”.

A lot has already been said at this conference about how today’s users interact with news.

What do we know? They are moving very fast to mobile - two thirds of smartphone users are consuming news on mobile devices. They love video, they love speed. They follow the news through social channels and apps. They really dislike intrusive ads (more on that later!)

That’s a snapshot, but it illustrates the scale of the challenge that you face in imagining the future of news - and that we face too.

News is - and will remain - a hugely important part of the information eco-system. At Google we recognise that. And we want to play our part in building a successful and sustainable relationship between publishers, technology and the user. We want high quality journalism to thrive for the long term.

Today I want to update you on the progress we are making in that three-way relationship.

It was just nine months ago - not too far from here in Davos - that we met with a group of European publishers and agreed to form the Digital News Initiative, or DNI.

The goal was simple: to encourage a more sustainable news ecosystem -- and promote innovation in digital journalism -- by promoting ongoing collaboration and dialogue between the tech and news sectors.

And we agreed at the outset that this would be an open collaboration - everyone involved in Europe’s digital news industry - large or small, established or newcomer - would be welcome to participate.

I’m delighted to say that today we are working together with more than 120 European partners across the news and tech sectors, including many of the most important names in global journalism. Die Zeit, FAZ and Der Spiegel here in Germany, the Guardian, Financial Times, the BBC, The Economist, La Stampa, El Pais, Les Echos, Euronews and many, many others.

But I want to make one thing very clear. Getting involved in the Digital News Initiative is not about buying into Google’s worldview or selling your soul. There are no contracts or conditions. You can choose to get involved in any or all of the elements of the DNI. It’s open to everyone, and it is all about working together.

So, what are we working on together?

Product Development
The DNI has three pillars. The first concerns Product Development. When we asked news publishers what Google could do to help build a more sustainable future for digital journalism, three words dominated their answers. Engineering and Mountain View!

When I announced the Digital News Initiative back in April, the publishers were cautious - perhaps rightly so. They wanted to see commitment to the project from the highest levels at Google. Let me quote from an article that Tony Danker, Chief Strategy Officer at the Guardian, wrote at the time:

“Can today’s initiative be a genuine partnership between Google and journalism, and thereby a tide to lift all boats? This would require Google’s leadership to see both mission and method here and to realise the real benefits for users. It would see them deploy their best engineering brains to want to fix the problem. It would result in fresh thinking within the product and engineering organisation at Google...It would see this thinking and this partnership spread globally. In short, it would mean more work in Mountain View than Brussels.”

Quite a challenge. But I firmly believe we are delivering upon it.

Over the past 6 months we have engaged in detailed discussions between publishers and Google’s best engineering and product minds to rethink the way users consume and interact with news and technology in this mobile age. The commitment goes right to the very top of Google - our new chief executive Sundar Pichai is closely involved in the project.

Two weeks ago we saw the first fruits of this collaboration when we announced a new initiative called Accelerated Mobile Pages, which aims to dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web.

The essence of this project is speed and openness. Today, users are increasingly consuming their news on the mobile web. But every time a mobile web page takes too long to load, potential readers will abandon it and publishers lose the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions.

The AMP project aims to make loading lightning fast. Under its open source framework, publishers will be able to build light-weight web pages which will still include rich content like video, graphics and ads, but will load instantly. The same code will work across multiple platforms and devices so that content can appear everywhere in an instant, no matter what type of phone or tablet you’re using.

And publishers will remain in control of their content and advertising. Publishers will continue to host their own web pages and will be able keep their choice of ad networks. It’s also a key aim of the project to support subscriptions and paywalls.

Although the conversations that led to this project started in Europe, we are pleased to have started this open-source initiative with more than 30 partners globally - including publishers like the New York Times and NewsCorp, technology platforms like Twitter and Pinterest, analytics partners like Adobe and Chartbeat, and pure digital players like Vox and Buzzfeed.

We’re just at the beginning of an exciting journey, but we expect AMPs to be live in Google Search in early 2016, and you can try out a demo right now on your phone or tablet.

Just type into your mobile browser

You’ll see a Google Search page and then type in a popular news query like Syria or the name of one of the publications involved in the trial, for example the FAZ. You’ll see it’s very fast, that means more traffic and more opportunities for monetisation. Most importantly, it offers a great experience for the user.

The AMP project is about ensuring that the World Wide Web remains fast, vibrant and compelling. And in doing so, to ensure that publishers - large and small - can have their content presented Instantly Everywhere, without having to pursue a deal with proprietary platforms.

We’ve been thrilled at the reaction we’ve had so far - we’ve had expressions of interest from hundreds of publishers and platforms around the world - and we invite others to get involved.

But don’t get too engrossed in the demo - I’ve got plenty more to tell you about!

The AMP project is just one element of a much broader conversation with publishers across a range of areas - mobile, video, monetisation and data. Some developments will be small and incremental, others we hope can be transformative. The point is that these decisions are no longer being made in a vacuum, but as a result of consultation and collaboration with news publishers.

We’re excited about the opportunities and we’ll have more to announce very soon.

Training and research
The second pillar of the DNI relates to training and research. A phrase we use very often at Google is: focus on the user and all else will follow. And of course news editors put great emphasis on a similar phrase - know your reader.

But today, simply understanding - either through gut instinct or metrics - what your readers or viewers are interested in is only half the battle. The evolution of the technology means that the way users consume, interact with and share news content has become central to the process. Journalism - and the technology that delivers the journalism to users - are two sides of the same coin.

In our conversations with publishers we’ve heard there is a great appetite in newsrooms to learn how to make the most of digital tools for journalism. And through our newly established News Lab team we have already run training sessions for more than two thousand journalists across Europe, with newsroom visits, conferences, workshops and more.

In the course of those sessions we got great feedback from newsrooms on how we can make our tools for journalists more useful. One example is Google Search Trends, which allows journalists to see what readers in their country or region are searching for. The feedback we had from newsrooms was: “that’s great, but for the purpose of journalism it really needs to be up to the minute.”

So, after consultation with dozens of journalists, in June we launched real time Search Trends - and many newsrooms are now using those insights to shape and inform their journalism.

And because we’d like this kind of collaboration to go deeper, we have for the first time hired a dedicated team to work with newsrooms in Europe.

Allow me to introduce our newest News Lab recruit - Isa Sonnenfeld - who many of you will already know from her work with Twitter. Stand up Isa!

Isa will be based here in Germany in Berlin, partnering with journalism organisations such as the European Journalism Centre, the Global Editors Network and the International News Media Association to create training programmes and tools tailored to the needs of newsrooms.

Isa will be here throughout the day and would love to catch up with you in one of the breaks.

We also believe that research and measurement are vital to the future of the European news ecosystem. In order to follow the user it is very important to know what the user is doing, how his and her habits are changing. So we have been supporting the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in its effort to produce the Digital News Report, which has quickly become the most authoritative guide to the fast changing patterns of news consumption.

Before the Reuters Institute launched the first Digital News report in 2012, much of this essential data simply didn’t exist. I’m delighted that as a result of our support the Reuters Institute has today added a further six countries to their survey - Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Poland and Portugal - bringing the number of countries covered to twenty.

Innovation Fund launching today
The third pillar of the Digital News Initiative is the Innovation Fund. Earlier this year we announced that Google will make 150 million euros available over the next three years to support innovation in digital journalism in Europe. I’m pleased to announce that the fund OPENS TODAY for applications.

News organisations innovate every day - they start with a blank canvas and they fill it with compelling content. News is by definition innovation.

But because the machinery of getting your product out every day is complicated, it’s very hard to find the time and resources to experiment with new approaches to journalism and production.

The DNI Innovation Fund aims to tackle that problem by providing non-refundable support for projects that demonstrate new thinking in the practice of digital journalism, that promote the development of new business models or maybe even change the way users consume digital news.

The Fund is open to established publishers, online-only players, news start-ups, collaborative partnerships and individuals based in Europe. We’re looking for applications for both large and small projects. There is a Prototype track, which is open to everyone, including individuals established in the EU or EFTA, which will offer funding of up to €50.000 per project. And companies and organizations can also submit larger projects, requiring up to €1 million of funding. Projects can focus on your organisation specifically, or be collaborative with other industry players.

If you want to apply to the Innovation Fund, you can find all the details on our website We will make the first funds available early in the new year.

The process will be inclusive and transparent, overseen by a Council including leading players in European journalism. And let me add that there is no tie-in with any of Google’s products.

Why are we launching an Innovation Fund? It comes back to the feedback we’ve had in our many conversations with publishers. The DNI is all about collaboration and engagement - and as I have described, we think there is much that Google can do to help build a more sustainable future for journalism. But no--one has all the answers, and maybe there are solutions out there that no-one has thought of yet. The fund aims to stimulate that new thinking.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say a word about the issue that every publisher is currently talking about - Ad blockers.

Ads are important - they have funded the news media for centuries and they fund the majority of the web today. The EU online advertising market grew to 30 billion euros in 2014. That is money that funds journalism, provides jobs and keeps internet services diverse and accessible.

But ad blockers are growing because consumers are having a bad experience with ads - people hate bad ads: ads that are intrusive, video ads that interrupt, ads that won’t get out of the way and block the content you are trying to enjoy.

We agree - consumers deserve a better ad experience. We - like many other good actors - work to remove the worst offenders. And we work on better alternatives - seamless and useful search ads and skippable ads on YouTube.

The problem is that Ad blockers that block all ads are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, threatening the livelihood of good content creators who are trying to do the right thing.

We need to find a solution -- and fast. We need to work together to create a standard for better ads online. A standard that addresses the bad ad experience that consumers are exposed to. A standard that in time will persuade consumers that they no longer need to use ad blockers.

We are committed to finding a solution that aligns the interests of advertisers, content creators and consumers, and allows readers to continue enjoying great content.

Partnership is better than dispute
The experience of the past year makes me optimistic we can do it. If you had told me twelve months ago that Google would be working together with more than 100 publishers in Europe to build a better web and a more sustainable future for the news industry I think I would have said you were dreaming.

We still have a long way to go, but I am convinced we have proven to each other - and to everyone else - that working together is much more effective than the alternatives.

Partnership is better than dispute. In a fast changing world, technology solutions are better than regulation. Making friends is so much better than making enemies.

Let’s keep going!

Thank you.