Some first numbers on how News Showcase is working

For the past two decades, we’ve worked closely and collaboratively with the news industry on helping publishers evolve in the digital age. One of the major ways we support journalism is through Google News Showcase, our new product and licensing program that pays news publishers to curate content across Google News and Discover, fueled by our recent $1 billion investment in news. News Showcase also benefits readers by helping them understand complex stories and find the news organizations covering the issues, both locally and nationally, that matter most to them. 

In the past six months, we’ve launched News Showcase in the U.K., Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Germany and signed deals with close to 600 publishers in over a dozen countries; over 90% of the publishers are considered local, regional or community newspapers. Today, we started rolling out News Showcase to users in Italy

Now that publishers have been able to use News Showcase for a few months, we wanted to give an update on how it is working for the news organizations currently live on the product. 

First, we’re thrilled by the amount of quality content our publisher partners are providing to readers through News Showcase. News organizations from the Evening Standard and The Financial Times in the U.K. to The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury and The Saturday Paper in Australia, to Infobae, Página12, and El Día in Argentina, Der Spiegel, Stern and Die Zeit in Germany and Folha de S.Paulo and A Crítica in Brazil are producing more than 7,000 panels per week, ensuring there is a wide variety of timely, in-depth stories for readers. 

An image showing different panels from News Showcase partners

An example of how different News Showcase story panels will look with some of our publishing partners.

Many of the panels that are currently being created are aimed at helping to inform users at the start or end their day, a choice that publishers are able to make thanks to the flexibility of the product. This variety and flexibility ensures publishers have control over their voice, storytelling and ability to reach readers, a choice that publishers make on their own sites that they can now do inside Google products with News Showcase. In an era of fast-paced news, News Showcase publishers are helping readers by highlighting the news they may have missed and getting them up to speed on the day’s events. 

In Google News, readers can follow a publisher when they want to see more content from them. When that happens, it tells us the product is working: The reader found a publisher they liked enough to want to hear more from every day. Since we launched, users have followed news publishers more than 200,000 times thanks to the features we launched alongside News Showcase. This is a huge increase, and we’re looking forward to seeing these new relationships develop.

We’re constantly looking to improve News Showcase’s contribution to a sustainable news ecosystem, and these early signs are encouraging. Our first news partners recently launched our extended access feature, which pays participating publishers to allow readers to access some of their paywalled content provided through News Showcase. This preview of publishers’ premium content can help users realize the value of being a paying subscriber, and we’re looking forward to users growing and strengthening their relationship with publishers as a result of this new feature. 

“The experience of working together with Google has been surprisingly fluid and enriching,” says Daniel Dessein, President of La Gaceta, a regional newspaper that covers the province of Tucuma in Argentina. “The process of setting up News Showcase was much more agile than we originally thought and we received support from high-level developers who gave us valuable insight and learnings for La Gaceta. Extended access has opened up new, exciting ways for audiences to connect with our content.”

People who deeply understand the value of their favorite publishers’ journalism are much more likely to subscribe, and it’s these users who do the most to help support the creation of great journalism. News Showcase is already delivering value for both users and publishers and we will continue to actively partner and solicit feedback to build on this effort.  

News Showcase is just one of the numerous ways we work with news publishers to help them grow their business, their audience and their skills.  Examples include Subscribe with Google, a product built for and with news publishers to make it easier to turn readers into loyal subscribers, as well as the Google News Initiative, where we provide a wide range of tools, training and grant funding.  Over the years we’ve provided billions of dollars to support quality journalism and remain invested in contributing to a sustainable future for the news industry. 

Google News Showcase is launching in Italy

Google News Showcase, our new product experience and licensing program for news, will begin rolling out with local, national and independent publishers in Italy starting today. News Showcase is backed by our recent $1 billion investment in news around the world. Globally, there are now close to 600 news publications in News Showcase in over a dozen countries including Australia, Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, the U.K. and Argentina, with discussions underway in a number of other countries. Over 90% of our publication partners are considered local, regional or community newspapers.

In Italy, this experience is powered by a series of licensing agreements covering more than 70 national and local publications from publishers including Caltagirone Editore, Ciaopeople, CityNews, Edinet, il Fatto Quotidiano, Il Foglio, Il Giornale Online, Monrif, RCS Media Group, ilSole24Ore, TMS Edizioni, Varese web. These agreements for News Showcase take into account the rights outlined in Article 15 of the European Copyright Directive for specific online uses of press publications, which do not apply to hyperlinks and very short excerpts.

“We are pleased to have signed this agreement, which governs the issue of related rights and acknowledges the importance of quality news and the prestige of our titles,”says Urbano Cairo, Chairman and CEO of RCS MediaGroup, international multimedia publishing group based in Milan. “A new piece in the partnership with Google that enhances the RCS newspapers and offers a further boost to the growth of our customer base, supporting it with an increasingly broad news coverage.”

“The agreement with Google is a further recognition of the value of quality information such as that of Il Sole 24 Ore,”says Giuseppe Cerbone, CEO of Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian leading newspaper in business, financial and regulatory information. “The remuneration of information, including the rights related to the distribution of digital content, is a front on which our publishing group is committed at the forefront with the aim of protecting our heritage of high added value content.”

An image showing the logos of some of the Italian News Showcase publisher partners

With News Showcase, news organizations can curate their content to help readers get more context about a story and direct them to the full articles on their websites. This drives valuable traffic to publishers’ websites, enabling them to grow their audiences and deepen their relationships with readers. News Showcase panels display an enhanced view of an article or articles, giving participating publishers more ways to bring important news to readers and explain it in their own voice, along with more direct control of presentation and their branding. 

A GIF that shows some of the News Showcase partner panels

An example of how News Showcase story panels will look with some of our publishing partners in Italy.

News Showcase content from our publisher partners will automatically start to appear in panels in Google News and on Discover starting today. People will see panels from publishers they follow in their personalized feeds, and they might also see panels from publishers they’re less familiar with, presented as suggestions in the Google News “For You” feed and inside “Newsstand,” the discovery area of Google News. 

As part of our licensing agreements with publishers, we’re also paying participating publishers to give readers access to a limited amount of paywalled content. This feature gives readers the opportunity to read more of a publisher’s content than they would otherwise have access to, while enabling publishers to encourage readers to become a subscriber.

“The agreement we have reached, also on the subject of neighbouring rights, is important for the authoritativeness and quality of Varesenews editorial project and for the recognition of the value of local journalism,”says Marco Giovannelli, Director of Varesenews, hyperlocal online publisher founded in 1997.

“The Showcase program opens a new season of relationships with Google, because it addresses the issue of rights connected to the distribution of digital content,”says Michela Colamussi, Director of Transition to Digital and Innovation of Gruppo Monrif, publisher of national and regional newspapers. “It allows us to promote the quality journalism of our publications and to accelerate the digital transformation of editorial processes and the development of revenues by subscription.”

“The agreement reached with Google is part of the digital strategies of our publications,” says Azzurra Caltagirone, Vice President of Caltagirone Editore, publisher of national and regional newspapers. “The initiative is an important step that will allow publishing companies to identify new sources of remuneration for quality content while ensuring the independence of a vital sector for contemporary society.”

An image showing examples of different New Showcase panel layouts from our publishing partners in Italy.

An example of New Showcase panel layouts from our publishing partners in Italy. 

News Showcase is part of a broader set of initiatives that represent Google’s long-term commitment to supporting journalism. Since 2015, Google has invested 11 million euros in Italian journalism projects through the Innovation Fund of the Digital News Initiative. For example, SESAAB, the Italian publisher of L’Eco di Bergamo newspaper, used artificial intelligence to create personalized newsletters and online content recommendations. In 2016, Google signed a three-year agreement with Italian news association FIEG that led the company to invest over 16 million euros on a number of strategic sectors for digital publishing. And in 2020, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Google News Initiative offered financial support to over 300 Italian newsrooms through its Global Emergency Fund for Local Journalism

News Showcase underlines our larger commitment to journalism. Through the Google News Initiative, which includes $300 million in funding, we’ve supported more than 6,250 news partners in 118 countries. Our ad technologies enable news organizations to sell their ad space to millions of advertisers globally — including advertisers they wouldn’t have access to without these services. Google also sends 24 billion free visits each month to publishers’ sites around the world through its platforms, which publishers can monetize with online advertising and subscriptions on their websites and apps.

Our new News Showcase agreements represent an important step forward in how Google is supporting Italian journalism and publishing. We are happy to contribute to the development of the digital ecosystem for the publishing world and to strengthen our commitment to quality journalism.

A subscriptions lab for European publishers

As more news outlets turn to online subscriptions to make money from their digital content, we’re working with publishers to strengthen their capabilities and grow reader revenue. That’s why we’re kicking off the second edition of the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab program in Europe, developed in partnership with FT Strategies and the International News Media Association (INMA). 

The Lab is an eight-month program designed to strengthen and accelerate growth of a publisher’s subscription business and help them develop new monetization strategies. It will focus on every step of the process, from how readers discover news content to how publishers convert those readers into subscribers and retain them over the long term.  

The Subscriptions Lab is a part of the Google News Initiative’s Digital Growth Programme, which was created to provide European news publishers with training and other resources to grow their digital business.

Building on the success of last year’s edition, the 2021 program attracted more than 50 applicants from 22 European countries. The eight publishers who have been selected, following a rigorous selection process, are:

  • The Courier (DC Thomson Media), United Kingdom
  • Denik (Vltava Labe Media), Czech Republic 
  • Irish Independent (Independent News & Media), Ireland 
  • Le Journal du Dimanche (Lagardère Media News), France 
  • OÖNachrichten (Wimmer Medien), Austria 
  • El País (Prisa), Spain 
  • Público (Público Comunicação Social), Portugal 
  • Ruhr Nachrichten (Lensing Media), Germany

The selection criteria includes a publisher having senior management support and commitment, digital subscriptions as a top strategic priority and a willingness to share knowledge and lessons with the rest of the group and the wider industry. The selection panel also ensured that the final group of eight publishers represented a broad cross-section of the industry: a mix of local, regional and national publishers of varying sizes, plus participants at different stages of their subscriptions journey.

The program draws on the expertise of each of the partners: the analytical tools developed by the Google News Initiative, FT Strategies’ experience of developing a successful subscriptions business — something they term the “North Star” methodology — and expertise from INMA’s Readers First Initiative

Eight publishers took part in last year’s inaugural edition of the European Subscriptions Lab: La Croix (France), Dennik N (Slovakia), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), The Independent (UK), Kurier (Austria), El Mundo (Spain), RP Online (Germany) and VLT (Sweden). The publishers, who took a survey rating their satisfaction, rated it a 4.9 out of 5 upon completing the Lab. Their experience and lessons were shared during last year’s INMA virtual town hall, moderated by Researcher-in-Residence Grzegorz Piechota. 

For each participating publisher, the 2020 Lab executed an in-depth diagnostic analysis of their performance and built a strategy around a clear goal, like reaching a certain number of subscribers. We conducted more than 20 experiments during last year’s Labs, with goals like growing readership, retaining readers, testing article quality and testing various subscription and payment models. When conducting these experiments, one participating publisher saw daily registrations increase by ten times by creating a new registration wall, while another had a more than 10 percent increase in conversions on the paywall by changing the position of page roadblocks.  

If you’re interested in seeing more experiment results from last year’s cohort as well as detailed learnings, you can watch the recording of INMA’s virtual Town Hall, or read the new report by FT Strategies, called “Towards your North Star.”  

Supporting diversity in European newsrooms

As European newsrooms seek to attract new talent, the Google News Initiative is again partnering with the European Journalism Centre to launch the 2021 Journalism Fellowship, with a new focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Starting today, students and recent graduates from 14 European countries who want to explore the intersection between journalism and technology can apply for a placement with a stipend in one of the 30 newsrooms selected by the EJC. Work placements on offer include Der Spiegel in Germany, Agence France-Presse in Paris and The Guardian in London.

The aim of the program is to provide the Fellows — chosen by the participating newsrooms — with valuable work experience over the summer months. This year, we expect many of the placements to be offered remotely, and we hope a new application process will help newsrooms to broaden their search for talent. Prior to selecting applicants, hiring managers in each news organization will be given the opportunity to learn about unconscious bias.

The European Fellowship program has run since 2016, after the original program, based in the U.S., started in 2013. Fellows receive a stipend for the duration of their placement and have access to a skills training bootcamp, including a self-empowerment workshop.

This year, the Google News Initiative and the European Journalism Centre will pilot a new alumni network program to help new Fellows connect with those from past cohorts. This will include peer-to-peer mentorship allowing Fellows to support one another with opportunities, career development and professional advice. 

Finally, as part of its ongoing partnership with the EJC, the Google News Initiative will support two News Impact Summit events in 2021, one entirely devoted to diversity, equality and inclusion, while the other will focus on data journalism. These one-day online events will feature renowned international speakers and provide training opportunities for journalists across Europe. 

Applications for The GNI Fellowship close April 25, 2021. For full application requirements, visit the fellowship website.

These global projects expand the reach of fact-checks

All over the world, a massive immunization effort is underway. 

The rapid nature of the COVID-19 vaccine development process and the great anxiety caused by the pandemic have made the topic of vaccination particularly susceptible to misinformation. Journalists can play a fundamental role supporting an evidence-based discourse by listening to their audiences’ concerns and providing corrective information about misconceptions that circulate online and offline.

To support this work, the Google News Initiative launched a $3 million Open Fund in January. Over a three-week window, we received more than 309 applications from 74 countries.

Today, we are announcing the 11 projects that were selected through an extensive review process that included a 17-person project team and an expert jury reviewing the highest-scoring applicants.

These projects stood out for their attempt to reach underrepresented audiences, explore new formats for fact checks and rigorous strategies to measure their impact. Each recipient will be sharing more details on their own channels in the upcoming weeks. Here’s a brief overview of the projects:

Africa Check, in partnership with Theatre for a Change, will produce a series of interactive radio drama shows in Wolof in Senegal and Pidgin in Nigeria to present fact checks in a more participatory format.

Agência Lupawill provide COVID-19 vaccine fact checks to a network of community radios covering Brazilian “news deserts” and work with digital influencers to promote media literacy on the topic.

Aleteia, I.Media and will work with a scientific committee and two research centers to source misinformation and create a database of related fact checks available in seven languages for Catholic media outlets around the world.

Chequeado will continue spearheading the collaborative project Latam Chequea that includes more than 20 fact-checking organizations across Latin America. It will aim to reach senior citizens, indigenous populations and 18-to-26-year-olds through dedicated formats.

The hyperlocal digital site Escenario Tlaxcala, assisted by local doctors, will produce fact-checking content and distribute it across the Mexican state in Nahuatl and Otomí through various formats including by using “perifoneo” loudspeakers to reach offline audiences.

Katadata will provide a platform debunking COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and work with the Indonesia Traditional Wet Market Merchants Association (Asparindo) to disseminate this content to wet markets across the country.

In Uruguay, la diaria will publish fact checks and co-created content around COVID-19 misinformation, broadening its reach by partnering with trap music performer Pekeño 77 and screenwriter Pedro Saborido.

Servimedia and Maldita.eswill join force to create fact-checking content relevant for Spaniards with disabilities, in formats that are accessible to them. 

Stuff will work in partnership withMāori Television and thePacific Media Network to fact-check misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand.

A broad collaborative project led by The Quint in India will seek to source hyper-local misinformation and distribute fact checks through a grassroots network of rural women.

Univision Noticias will work together to produce fact checks about COVID-19 immunization as short bilingual video explainers, with a plan to measure their impact systemically and reach a majority of U.S. Hispanic households.

Our goal is for the lessons learned from these initiatives to support our collective understanding of how best to combat misinformation about health topics, whether it’s through new audience strategies or new approaches to measuring the impact of fact checks. Stay tuned for more updates from us as these projects get underway.

A path forward for sustainable news startups

Camille Padilla Dalmau and Mackenzie Clark are doing similar work, 2,244 miles apart.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, Camille creates stories for the 9 million Puerto Ricans who live around the world through 9 Millones. Mackenzie recently launched the Lawrence Times in Kansas, funded by an online campaign that brought in more than $8,000 over six days.

Camille and Mackenzie are part of a new wave of local news sites launching across the U.S. and Canada. Some 266 local news organizations have started over the last five years, at a rate of 50 per year. That’s explosive growth in the field and it’s happening with no coordinated support, even though — as we know — this is hard work.

Today LION Publishers and theGoogle News Initiative are announcing the findings of Project Oasis, first-of-its-kind research which provides information about the paths these entrepreneurs take — and points to the way forward to a sustainable future for local news. This project was undertaken in partnership with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Douglas K Smith (architect of Table Stakes), and with support from Michelle McLellan (creator of Michelle’s List). The results are a database and research report that illustrate the state of the local news industry, as well as a step-by-step guide for aspiring news entrepreneurs on how to get started.

The Project News Oasis database features rich information on 711 publishers across the U.S. and Canada, including breakdowns of their distributional, editorial and financial operations. We’ll use it to help existing publishers, who can add or update their information at any time, as well as to inform the next generation of news entrepreneurs.

Next, the Project Oasis research report puts our research findings in context — it highlights the  revenue streams publishers use to fund their newsgathering, the communities they aim to serve and the size of the teams they hire to do the work. It also provides benchmarks designed to help new startup publishers develop their own practical goals for what their operation can look like three years out.

So how might we encourage responsible growth in the local news industry? That brings us to the third resource we’re releasing today: The GNI Startups Playbook. The playbook will demystify the process of launching a digital news startup and, by tackling key activities such as building a product, growing an audience and developing a revenue stream, it will help news entrepreneurs build a business that’s financially viable and has a positive journalistic impact on local communities. 

This comprehensive resource, which will soon be available in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian, includes contributions from GNI, LION and a small army of experts. The playbook itself will provide the basis for much of GNI’s and LION’s joint programming moving forward, including the GNI Startups Lab and Boot Camp, as well as our collaboration with Tiny News Collective, a low-cost platform and set of shared services aimed at helping news entrepreneurs build a news organization from scratch.

The database, the research report and the playbook are intended to be living resources that will be updated regularly. We’re committed to working with the Google News Initiative to fully capture the experiments and learnings of this rapidly evolving field, and over the coming months we’ll collaborate once again to help the GNI conduct a global series of live workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs on the Digital Growth Program site. After you’ve looked at these resources, we’d love your input: What’s valuable? What would you like more information about? We’ll incorporate your feedback into the next editions.

Our goal is to ensure the next Camille and the next Mackenzie will have a smoother, better-lit road ahead of them. We’re confident that as this work continues, and the path is made clearer, we’ll build a sustainable future for local digital news by focusing on what founders and organizations need along the way.

News Brief: February Updates from the Google News Initiative

At the Google News Initiative last month, we felt the love for new publisher tools, training programs and newsroom success stories. See February updates below.

One World Media Fellowship opens for applications

The One World Media Fellowship is a year-long, GNI-supported program aimed at aspiring journalists and filmmakers who seek to report on stories from countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Working in film, print, audio or multimedia, fellows’ projects bring together integrity and creativity to present underreported stories that break down stereotypes and build cross-cultural connections.

Applications are open until April 7, and we particularly encourage submissions from underrepresented ethnic groups, applicants who identify as women, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities ands people from and based in the global south.

Fostering diversity in Latin American newsrooms

We supported the Diversity in News and in Newsrooms course, developed by the Knight Center. More than 1700 journalists from 12 countries participated in the four-week course, which addressed the challenges of diversity, equity and equality and how to cover these issues. Special guests Keith Woods, NPR’s Chief Diversity Officer, and Krissah Thompson, Diversity Editor of the Washington Post, among others, shared their experience and best practices.

Screenshots of The San Francisco Chronicle's simplified new mobile subscription process

San Francisco Chronicle improves mobile subscriptions rate by 54%

The San Francisco Chronicle usedNews Consumer Insights (NCI), a free data tool for news organizations, to grow their mobile subscriptions by 54%. Using NCI, the San Francisco Chronicle team discovered new opportunities to grow subscriptions through their newsletter and developed a simplified mobile subscription process.

GNI Canada event brings together local newsrooms

GNI Canada event brings together local newsrooms

We hosted a GNI Canada event focused on supporting and engaging with the Canadian news industry, enabling connection, learning and growth. More than 100 attendees from local Canadian newsrooms participated in sessions focused on training journalists, growing audience engagement with News Consumer Insights and increasing revenue. 

The Frenchand English sessions are available to view on demand, and Canadian publishers can access resources from the event online.

Taiwanese publisher READr uses audience participation to boost reader engagement

Taiwan’s READr relies on its audience to support its fact-checking platform. Teaming with GNI’s Design Accelerator program in Asia Pacifc, READr boosted reader engagement through opportunities for audience participation, allowing readers to interact with content and provide feedback. The changes grew page views 400% in the first week, increased time spent on site, and helped add 40,000 new users in the first two months. 

That’s all for February. Check back next month for more updates, and follow along through our newsletter and social for more newsroom resources.

A global community for news product experts

Digital products for news consumers are becoming increasingly more important for the success of news organizations, whether you’re a well-established publisher like The New York Times, or a relatively new player like Nexo Jornal in Brazil. As more users shift their news habits to digital platforms, a growing number of journalists are learning how to become product experts to help their organizations diversify revenue. A product expert in a newsroom can help disparate areas work together with the goal of serving both audience needs and business growth.

Because product expertise in newsrooms is an emerging field, product professionals in newsrooms can struggle to find peers in similar roles. Google is a product-driven company, with many product engineers who have refined best practices and are eager to support journalism and connect with journalists working in this field. Today, we’re announcing our support for the News Product Alliance, a global community of product experts that is aimed at building communities of practice and support for product professionals in newsrooms.

Our first collaboration will be around the News Product Alliance Summit, the first global annual event dedicated to connecting product professionals from across the news industry. The summit will bring 300 participants virtually together and feature two programming tracks: Support and Practice. In the Support track, participants will connect with peers and discuss topics like navigating a unique career path, confronting challenges in their work and building confidence as a leader and change-maker. 

In the Practice track, attendants will learn new skills, share case studies and insights and collaborate to define best practices for news product management. In this track, William Vambenepe, our product management director for news, will lead a session to share lessons about product management at Google.You can apply to participate until March 5. 

Finding the right people to fill product roles within news organizations can be very difficult, according to a 2019 survey of more than 130 publishing executives. There is a big skill gap and these are not positions that can be easily filled with product experts from other industries. The challenge can be especially acute for small newsrooms, which can often have limited resources. It’s also important for newsrooms to diversify their staff and find product experts who have different perspectives and backgrounds. 

That’s why we’re also supporting the News Product Alliance Summit with diversity, equity and inclusion scholarships, to broaden access to underrepresented communities. If you are part of a historically marginalized group and want to attend the summit, make sure to note that in the application

Supporting associations like the News Product Alliance is key to help product experts, newsrooms and tech companies connect, share skills and collaborate to build a better future for news. We hope our support will help create even more vibrant connections in the community.

Using AI to explore the future of news audio

Radio reaches more Americans every week than any other platform. Public radio stations in the United States have over 3,000 local journalists and each day they create audio news reports about the communities they serve. But news audio is in a similar place as newspaper articles were in the 1990s: hard to find, and difficult to sort by topic, source, relevance or recency. News audio can not delay in improving its discoverability. 

KQED is the most listened to public radio station in the United States, and one of the largest news organizations in the Bay Area. In partnership with Google, KQED and KUNGFU.AI, an AI services provider and leader in applied machine learning, ran a series of tests on KQED’s audio to determine how we might reduce the errors and time to publish our news audio transcripts, and ultimately, make radio news audio more findable. 

“One of the pillars of the Google New Initiative is incubating new approaches to difficult problems,” said David Stoller, Partner Lead for News & Publishing at Google “Once complete, this technology and associated best practices will be openly shared, greatly expanding the anticipated impact.” 

What makes finding audio so much harder?

In order for news audio to be searched or sorted, the speech must first be converted to text.  This added step is trickier than it seems, and currently puts news audio at a disadvantage for being found quickly and accurately. Transcription takes time, effort and bandwidth from newsrooms — not something that is in abundance these days. Even though there have been great advances in speech to text, when it comes to news, the bar for accuracy is very high. As someone who works to make KQED’s reporting widely available, it is frustrating when KQED’s audio isn’t prominent in search engines and news aggregators.

The challenge of correctly identifying who, what and where

For our tests, KQED and KUNGFU.AI, applied the latest speech-to-text tools to a collection of KQED’s news audio. News stories try to address the “five Ws:” who, what, when, where and why. Unfortunately, because AI typically lacks the context in which the speech was made (i.e. identity of the speaker, location of the story), one of the most difficult challenges of automated speech-to-text is correctly identifying these types of proper nouns, known as named entities. KQED’s local news audio is rich in references of named entities related to topics, people, places, and organizations that are contextual to the Bay Area region. Speakers use acronyms like “CHP” for California Highway Patrol and “the Peninsula” for the area spanning San Francisco to San Jose. These are more difficult for artificial intelligence to identify.

When named entities aren’t understood, machine learning models make their best estimation of what was said. For example, in our test, “The Asia Foundation” was incorrectly transcribed as “age of Foundations” and “misgendered” was incorrectly transcribed as “Miss Gendered.”  For news publishers, these are not just transcription errors, but editorial problems that change the meaning of a topic and can cause embarrassment for the news outlet. This means people have to go in and correct these transcriptions, which is expensive to do for every audio segment. Without transcriptions, search engines can’t find these stories, limiting the amount of quality local news people can find online.

An illustration showing a new proposed process for audio transcription where the human correcting the mistakes in the first version helps inform it to make the transcription more clear, accurate for the future.

A machine learning ↔ human ↔ machine learning feedback loop

At KQED, our editors can correct common machine learning errors in our transcripts. But right now, the machine learning model isn’t learning from its mistakes. We’re beginning to test out a feedback loop in which newsrooms could identify common transcription errors to improve the machine learning model. 

We’re confident that in the near future, improvements into these speech-to-text models will help convert audio to text faster, ultimately helping people find audio news more effectively. 

Fostering innovation in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa

As part of our continuous effort to support the news industry around the world, we are launching our second Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. It’s an open call for projects that increase reader engagement and explore new business models to build a stronger future for journalism.

Last year, we selected 21 projects from 13 countries: Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, UAE, Iraq, Turkey, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria and Ghana. In South Africa, online news publisher Daily Maverick developed a “relevancy engine” for small and medium publishers to help them better understand reader insights and increase relevancy and increase subscriptions. In Jordan, podcast startup Sowt developed a new hosting platform for Arabic news podcasts. You can find out more about all of last year’s recipients in this Keyword post.

Round 1 recipients Food for Mzansi showing their support

Round 1 recipients Food for Mzansi showing their support

Applications are open from now until April 12. Established publishers, online-only players, news startups, publisher consortia and local industry associations are all eligible to apply. Projects will be evaluated against five criteria: impact on the news ecosystem, innovation, diversity, equity and inclusion; inspiration; and feasibility. The selected projects will be eligible to receive up to $150,000, not to exceed70%of the total project cost. We will not be funding any editorial-only projects, but instead are focusing on projects aimed at increasing reader engagement and exploring new business models. 

How to apply

Applications, in English only, must be made online via our website and are open until Monday, April 12 at 23:59 GMT. We will also be holding an online town hallon March 3 at 13.00 GMT with a live presentation and the opportunity to ask questions. (Please note that Google does not take any equity or IP in any projects or submissions.) 

We are looking forward to seeing new ideas, projects and big bets come out of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, a region rich with talent, potential and opportunity. For more information about the challenge, visit