Google wants an end to its war with the news business

Google executive Carlo D'Asaro BiondoYouTube/Zermatt Summit FoundationCarlo D’Asaro Biondo

Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, Google’s Europe president/strategic relationships, just told an audience of media executives in London that the search company wants an end to its war with the newspaper business.

Most surprisingly, he admitted that Google News had in some ways failed.

Formally, he announced Google’s new

Digital News Initiative, a 150 million euro effort with eight European newspapers to fund the invention of new digital news products.

But his speech at the Financial Times Digitam Media conference today was interesting because he admitted that Google had made mistakes and enemies in its development of Google News, and that it now wanted a less conflicted relationship with newspaper owners who believe Google is taking their content, displaying it free, and stealing their advertisers.

“Google has always wanted to be a friend and partner to the news industry. I think we at Google have to accept we have made some mistakes along the way,” D’Asaro Biondo said.

When Google News was launched in 2006, “we had tension all over Europe,” D’Asaro Biondo said. “When I talk to publishers in Europe I hear deep concern about their ongoing ability to fund great journalism.”

“Google News was a product for the industry,” he said.

But it was widely regarded as a product that would eat the industry, as publishers globally realised that advertisers were shifting their budgets from newspapers to search, and readers didn’t want to pay for news they read online.

The shift was smoother in the US and the UK, where brands like the New York Times and The Guardian gathered massive global audiences. But D’Asaro Biondo said that he understood the situation was different for French or Italian publishers who simply do not have access to the massive English audiences internationally that can generate the kind of revenues news organisations need to survive, simply because of the language barrier.

D’Asaro Biondo said Google wasn’t expecting the level of hostility that Google News generated in the journalism business. “Maybe we didn’t present it enough … it wasn’t take for what it was, a collaborative tool. We learned from that. … I think we didn’t listen enough. We said ‘we know,’ and to be honest we didn’t know … it’s the customers who have to tell us what will happen.”

“It is sometimes messy, happens in random ways, and sometimes we fail,” he said.

“The feedback [from publishers] has been that Google can be complicated to work with and sometimes unpredictable. We intend to change that and it’s my job to change that.”

The DNI is Google’s commitment to that, he said. “We want to stimulate and nurture ideas from those who are closest to the action.”

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