Google Grants $6M to ‘Innovative’ Diversity Projects From Newsrooms

Diversity in news, from who is covered to who is considered an expert, has long been discussed as vital, but a series of newsroom projects are getting funding from Google in an effort to bring truly diverse coverage closer to reality.

As part of its “innovation challenge” this year, the Google News Initiative asked newsrooms to apply with their ideas for closing the gaps in news coverage, which often leaves out the perspectives of different groups of people, be it those identifying as BIPOC or LGBTQ. While the challenge was actually unveiled in late February, before the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life and business along with it, the application deadline was extended to September. All told, Google received 215 applications and ended up selecting 33.

“When we finally closed the application, we were impressed by the number of applications and the quilt of application that we got,” said LaToya Drake, Google’s head of media representation. “I read every application and really, it was hard to say no to anyone.”

Other people on the selection committee were Nancy Lane, chief executive officer of the Local Media Association; Donna Ladd, cofounder of the Mississippi Free Press, and Alberto Mendoza, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Among those projects selected by the group is one from Vox and two from Gannett. Vox, which operates its namesake site, New York Magazine and Recode, among others, is set to create a “comprehensive, inclusive open-sourced style guide and editing resources designed to deliver lasting change.” Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., is set to create something called the “diversity dashboard,” which will use geo-location to show newsrooms which communities are being covered, the topics being covered alongside census data. “The goal is for newsrooms to avoid gaps in coverage and build trust,” the description of the project reads. It’s also creating a database dubbed “Pass the Mic” of expert sources from “underrepresented communities,” including women, people of color and LGBTQ people, that will include the ability to nominate others for inclusion in the database.

Tackling and automating diversity in sourcing for news stories is one of the more “practical” ideas that Drake, who stepped into her new role at Google over the summer, is excited to see come out of this challenge. Next City in Pennsylvania was also selected for funding with a tool to track diversity of sources, as did another group of machine learning and tracking tools created by The Lenfest Local Lab, the Brown Institute and The Philadelphia Inquirer and a separate tool created at Ryerson University in Canada.

Aside from Vox and Gannett, most of the projects receiving funding from Google are coming out of smaller newsrooms and organizations. The Educational Video Center in New York is getting funding for its idea to “distribute and monetize youth-produced documentary films” from its archive in an effort to get more youth voices into the public conversation. The Houston Defender is getting funding to simply help in its shift to a more modern, digital publication, and away from a reliance on print, allowing its coverage to better reach the Black and Latino communities it covers.

With the extended application period afforded by the delay in closing this year’s innovation challenge, Drake said she was able to spend a lot of time doing outreach or “demystifying” what Google was looking for from applicants.

“In many conversations I had, people saw this as us asking for suggestions on new technology or AI,” Drake said. “It’s not just tech we’re looking for or the next whizbang idea. Sometimes, innovation is just transforming a business. And do that from where you already are.”

This being the first time Google is giving away money for news projects specifically focused on diversity, Drake seemed to have her work cut out for her.

“We did a lot of groundwork, just to make sure people and newsrooms working in diverse communities knew this was a thing,” Drake said. ‘We’re giving out money, but it’s hard to give it out if people don’t know it exists and aren’t encouraged to apply.”

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