European News Media and Innovation - Can the Digital News Initiative Save the News Industry?

Posted by Finley Dominguez on June 28th, 2021

The Digital News Initiative is an European organisation established by Google to 'accentuate high-quality digital journalism through innovation and technology'. It includes an "Innovative Research Fund" of up to Euros 3.5m per year, which in 2021 released grants to 461 projects in the digital news industry across the continent. Among its members are news channels from BBC World and CNN, as well as France 24, Italy's La Stampa and CNBC. This is not the first time that a major media group has formed a joint venture company, but it comes at a time when the digital news industry is experiencing one of its biggest boosts in years. In this article, I will explain what the DNI actually is, analyse its influence on the global news media and what the future holds for journalists who access its resources. The Digital News Initiative covers a wide range of topics across the continent, especially in the fields of economy, health and environment. For the last few years, the industry has grown at an explosive pace, fuelled largely by the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices with digital news becoming an important part of the information relayed by these devices. The initiative began in May 2021 and was launched with a view to "reinvent" the media industry by attracting more investment and technological expertise from across the Atlantic. The initial projects covered developments across finance, education and environment, but in June it was reported that another eight sectors had applied for funding, bringing the total number of sectors involved to eleven. agency has the backing of the European Commission and several major publishers have signed on. However, it is not just the publishers who have made the jump. In January this year, the Commission published guidelines for bloggers, outlining that companies should encourage participation from bloggers across the EU. In particular, it was said that companies offering blog services should "aim to build a community of European users and contributors". This follows similar guidelines released by the Digital Single Market project. The Digital News Initiative has also been welcomed by leading press organizations, as well as by commercial television stations and radio stations that previously sign up to blogs without taking them seriously. However, some observers suggest that the drive to use the digital news initiative for increasing commercial interest in the sector is not always well thought through. For example, the circular points out that this strategy will only benefit established news publishers who already have a firm foothold in many countries. This is because the initiative targets new start-ups and small operators that may not be able to afford the marketing spend required by established players. Some argue that the push for the commercial sector to take part in the soft power of the web may backfire, damaging free press in the long run. Already there are signs that the push to create European journalism may backfire. In September, the European Business Consultancy (EBC) published a report that found that the growth of the digital industry in Europe was lagging behind that of the U.S. and Asia. The report noted that while half of the surveyed companies in the European Union were planning to expand their reach in Asia, only twenty-nine were doing so in the Americas. Moreover, according to the same study, EBC noted that its research showed that the biggest barriers to enter the Chinese market were not technological but rather "a lack of understanding and communication." In the end, it was found that the digital industry had a more limited scope than anticipated, focusing mainly on selling digital products and services, rather than influencing the direction of the economy. This leaves some to wonder whether the European digital news industry will remain a success story or be relegated to the realm of failed commercial activity. What's clear is that the EBC's own commercial business interests are at odds with the vision of the European Commission President, Jean-Louis De Bruenther. De Bruenther has been keen on encouraging closer cooperation between EU member states, arguing that this can bring mutual advantage. At the same time, he has also been careful to note that the establishment of a supervisory body, the European Networking Information Center (ENIC), will not amount to anything more than a diversion from the main purpose of creating an open market for advertising. In other words, there is little evidence that the creation of the ERIC will lead to greater control over the functioning of the digital news media. The lack of political will to establish a supervisory body or even an innovation-focused regulator is making things more difficult for European journalists and news publishers. For many in the European publishing industry, the question of whether the digital era can truly usher in increased innovation or not has already been answered. The answer is that the market will have to adapt to changing demands in order to survive. Whether the publishers manage to adapt will depend largely on the willingness of governments and the EU to support new developments. It is clear that the European news industry is facing tough times, with the rising threats of cyber crime and the threat of fake news from Russian state propagandists. However, many publishers believe that if the publishing industry is to survive, it needs to be able to adopt a more proactive stance. For them, the solution lies in the creation of a supervisory body as well as the introduction of a regulatory system that would give publishers more influence over the direction their newspapers take.

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Finley Dominguez

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Finley Dominguez
Joined: June 28th, 2021
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