Cape Breton Post

COVID proved local news vital; Google partnering with SaltWire

- SABRINA GEREMIA @capebreton­post Sabrina Geremia is vice president and country manager, Google Canada

The last 16 months have taught us a lot about ourselves. We’re incredibly resilient. We’re compassion­ate. We can rise to challenges that we couldn’t have imagined at the start of 2020, which feels like a century ago.

The pandemic has also taught us we have a deep and abiding need for other people. We need a shared sense of common experience and common values that’s best summed up in one word: community. And when we lose that sense of community, we feel the loss intensely.

For more than a century, local media — especially newspapers — have played an essential role in the lives of our communitie­s, shaping them and reflecting them back to us. Growing up, our local paper was an anchor for my family. My Dad read it every night, and I still have clippings from my time in high school sports.

Today, local media is as valued as it’s ever been. But the economic and technologi­cal models that local media operated under for decades don’t work as well in our new, digital world.

I work in technology. I see it as a force for good in people’s lives. I don’t need any further proof than when I see my aging father, who’s sheltering in place on the family farm, virtually visiting with his grandkids every day. And I also believe that digital transforma­tion and a thriving local media ecosystem are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe there’s an incredible opportunit­y for us to use technology to bring more vital, important news and informatio­n into the lives of people than ever before.

That’s what is driving Google Canada’s new partnershi­p with community news organizati­ons across Canada, including SaltWire Network, home to four daily publicatio­ns, half a dozen community weeklies with more than 100 journalist­s across Atlantic Canada. SaltWire journalist­s cover what matters most to Atlantic Canadians and ensure that their voices are being heard.

It’s called Google News Showcase, and it’s a new product and licensing program that provides a customizab­le space for news content in Google News and Discover, our two most popular news and informatio­n portals. What that means for publishers in Atlantic Canada and across the country is that they’ll be paid for the content they generate. What that means for Canadians is that they can access richer news content and support journalism by using the product. It also helps them experience the benefits of subscribin­g to authoritat­ive news outlets.

Google News Showcase is supporting regional and national news producers. We just announced deals with publishers that include Black Press Media, Glacier Media, The Globe and Mail, Métro Média, Narcity Media, SaltWire Network, Village Media and Winnipeg Free Press. Together, these publishers represent national, regional and community news organizati­ons from coast to coast to coast.

We’re also committed to helping journalist­s and journalism students strengthen their digital skills. One thousand Canadian journalist­s have already participat­ed in our journalism training programs, and we’re adding capacity for 5,000 more over the next three years.

We’re also offering a series of workshops through our Google News Initiative, in English and French, for small and mid-sized news organizati­ons that we know have been most impacted by digital transforma­tion. The workshops will focus on data and product developmen­t, as well as growing audiences, revenue and advertisin­g — all essential to their long-term sustainabi­lity. And we’re now offering Canadian publishers free access to our News Consumer Insights program. It’s a source of analytical data to help inform business decisions that, in turn, drives profits and builds deeper relationsh­ips with readers.

All of this is focused on one goal, at the end of the day, and that’s supporting our communitie­s. As we move out of the pandemic and back to a more normal life, one of the lessons I hope we never forget is just how important local and community news has been to our health and well-being.

When people Googled questions like “Is school open?” or “Where do I get my parents vaccinated?” or “What can I do to support my kid’s mental health?,” our results likely steered them to local news for the answer.

Through Google News Showcase and our other programs, Google Canada is making a strong statement of support for independen­t journalism, for local and community news organizati­ons, and for the crucial role they have played — and must go on playing — in keeping us informed, engaged, and connected. The pandemic is coming to an end, and it’s left us knowing that our need for community is stronger than ever.

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