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Editors slam Google over lack of exposure for independent titles

Phil Creighton cropEditors have accused Google of shunning independent local news titles in a project that has seen the technology giant pay publishers for their content.

Around 200 publications across the UK are currently signed up to the Google News Showcase, with Archant, DC Thomson, Iliffe Media, the Midland News Association, Newsquest, JPIMedia and Reach plc among publishers taking part.

But Phil Creighton, of Wokingham Today, and the Bedford Independent’s Paul Hutchinson have both hit out at the tech giant, claiming the project is “ignoring” the UK’s independent local news sector.

It comes after Google announced the launch of a new tool to make it easier for users to find news local to them, with titles participating in the project being able to highlight the content they want to promote via the search engine’s News channel.

The development provoked a critical response from both Phil and Paul, while the Independent Community News Network, the trade body for independent local news titles, has called for Google to open a dialogue with its members over future inclusion in the scheme.

Reacting to HTFP’s coverage of Google’s announcement on Wednesday, Phil posted on Twitter: “[It’s] concerning that, at the moment, the Google News Showcase is ignoring the ICNN hyperlocal sector on this move to give greater prominence to UK’s local news titles.

“Often, we are the only way to get local news for an area.”

Phil, pictured, added: “Obviously, we’d all be keen to work, constructively, with Google to find ways to help hyperlocal sector on initiatives like this. We’re an emerging sector, that has an important part to play in local communities.”

Paul was even more critical in his response, posting: “Slow clap for Google, who think supporting local news means propping up the big publishers who provide coverage from out of town offices.

“This isn’t ‘greater prominence’ to local news at all. What this is, is lip service to big publishers.”

Speaking to HTFP, Paul said: “I’d like to see all digital companies, not just Google, recognising the strong position of independent media titles up and down the country.

“Collectively, the independent network rivals that of any big publisher and, speaking from our own position, the readership of the Bedford Independent is consistently three times larger than that of our nearest competitor.

“If Google et al really want to show they’re committed to supporting local news, democracy, and access to comprehensive and accurate information, they need to take quality of content into account and make sure the entire sector is involved, because anything less is simply lip service.”

As a result of the criticisms, the ICNN is now calling for talks with Google on the future of the project.

ICNN deputy director Matt Abbott told HTFP: “The launch of Google News Showcase last year was a positive development for local news. And the announcement that Google will now give greater prominence to participating titles is, again, a welcome move from the digital giant.

“Unfortunately, independent community news titles that lack the resources to invest in their digital offering have not been included in the partnership.

“In many cases, independent community news titles are the only publications in their communities providing locally-relevant news stories and up-to-date information on the pandemic.

“It is vital that Google recognises and helps highlight these valuable stories from underrepresented communities. ICNN has contacted Google and welcomes a discussion on the eligibility criteria for the Showcase.”

A Google spokesperson told HTFP: “More than 90pc of the publications that are part of News Showcase represent local or community news.

“News Showcase is just one way we’re helping readers find news that matters to them. We recently added a new news feature in Google Search where readers see a carousel of local news stories when we’re able to find local news coverage related to their search.

“Supporting local publishers is also a key focus of our work and that of the Google News Initiative (GNI), our effort to help news organizations and journalists thrive in a digital age. For example, the GNI Digital Growth Program is a free program aimed at helping small and mid-sized news publishers around the world develop the capabilities required to accelerate the growth of their businesses online.

“And the Google News Lab offers partnerships and training in over 50 countries. We’ve also built our products to help journalists with different technical abilities and resources.  We’re dedicated to playing our part to help support local journalism thriving in a digital age.”