Google Grants Try to Save the Dying Art of Journalism? – by “Casey B”

With the rise of online media and the decline of traditional print journalism, Google has often been attributed the lion’s share of the blame. The online giant aggregates content from across the web and places it at the reader’s fingertips, all while reaping the rewards of advertising revenue. The print media have been decrying this practice for years, and it seems that Google has finally heard their cries.

Well, sort of…

In an official blog post on October 26, 2010, Google announced it would be giving $5 million in grants to non-profit organizations in an attempt to encourage journalistic experimentation and innovation. The US foundation receiving $2 million of the grant money is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Google specifically indicates that $1 million will be going toward the Knight News Challenge, a contest that awards funding based on proposals for “innovative ideas that develop platforms, tools and services to inform and transform community news, conversations and information distribution and visualization.”

However, it is interesting that Google chooses to cite the Knight-funded project DocumentCloud, “which aims to bring more investigative-reporting source material online so anyone can find and read it.” Even though Google is ostensibly trying to bolster the journalistic community, they still have a clear interest in freely accessible news available “so anyone can find and read it” – the very thing bemoaned by the journalism industry.

Looking at some of the 2010 Knights News Challenge winners, however, there seems to be some hope that the Google grant may one day achieve its intended goal.

PRX StoryMarket, a Boston, MA project by the Public Radio Exchange, is an intriguing plan that would allow anyone to propose and help fund stories reported on by the local public radio station. When enough funds are raised, the station will hire a journalist to cover the story. This model would provide the kind of interactivity that blog writers and readers value while still maintaining a professional journalism organization.

Another promising project is the WindyCitizen’s Real Time Ads, a Chicago, IL project by journalist Brad Flora. Real Time Ads is software intended to “help online startups become sustainable” by creating ads that will engage visitors by virtue of their constantly-changing content. This project seems to be geared toward helping the news organizations themselves form a model for ad revenue instead of relying on the old model of subscriptions.

While only time will tell if the Knight News Challenge projects will produce lasting models for modern media, it is certainly promising, if surprising, to see a giant like Google attempting to mitigate the havoc it has wrought upon traditional journalism.

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