Innovative digital journalism projects in Latin America can get up to $250,000 from Google through new challenge

Latin American journalistic media will have the chance to get up to U.S. $250,000 in funding for their digital products through the Innovation Challenge, a program to promote digital journalism from Google News Initiative (GNI) that was just launched in the region.Digital device (Stock photo)

The June 6 announcement of the program’s arrival in Latin America was made during the 2019 edition of the Google for Brazil event, held annually by the company in São Paulo since 2017.

The Innovation Challenges promote rounds of regional funding to “empower news innovators from around the world to demonstrate new thinking in online journalism and the development of new publishing business models,” as explained on its site.

After passing through Asia Pacific, where it is funding 23 projects in 14 countries, and opening applications for media from North American countries, the program comes to Latin America to invest part of the U.S. $30 million that will be distributed over two years to projects around the world.

Marco Túlio Pires, Google News Lab Lead in Brazil, told the Knight Center that the Innovation Challenges are structured around themes in each region. While in Asia the focus was on "reader revenue," and in North America the focus will be on local journalism, in Latin America the program will finance "journalism projects that present new business models and new journalistic products.”

"The themes are decided after several talks with local associations, journalists and business owners to understand what is the most relevant topic for the moment in that region," he explained. "Every topic is important in journalism, but we have to prioritize something and, taking into account the scenario of journalism in Latin America today, we understand that new business models and new journalistic products are a good first step for this edition of the challenge in the region."

Projects can be from microentrepreneurs – as long as they are legal entities – to large journalism organizations in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. Proposals from Cuba are not eligible, due to the economic embargo imposed by the United States on the country, and Haiti, for not having Spanish or Portuguese as their official language.

Only digital journalism projects will be funded, Pires said. "We're not going to finance a project that wants to print magazines, for example. The main component of the project needs to be digital," he noted. Proposals should also provide for projects to be implemented within one year.

Collaboration is one of the factors that will be considered by the team evaluating proposals, he said. "If the project is collaborative among various organizations or journalists, it will possibly earn more points because we want to foster collaboration," he said.

Other factors are impact on the journalistic ecosystem ("what novelty the project is bringing to the ecosystem as a whole"), viability ("how viable the project is in relation to the vision presented in the proposal") and inspiration ("if it is an inspiring project that can provide lessons to other organizations”).

Pires also noted that "the winning proposals will clearly describe the sustainability component of the project and how the organization intends to share what they learned after the project is completed."

Each project could receive up to $ 250,000, but the program will only fund 70 percent of the total amount, Pires said. The other 30 percent must be provided by the responsible organization.

"Even if a project costs U.S. $250,000, we will only invest 70 percent of that value. Those who submit a project will have to show a certain commitment, also in the form of investment," he explained. "That's not to say that the organization will need to shell out the 30 percent in kind; they can be manifested in the budget spreadsheet as, for example, staff working hours."

Entries are open in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and go until July 22. Although information about the program is available in all three languages, registration must be in English. "This is a prerequisite that applies to all regions of the planet and has to do with our ability to have an assessment team that is more diverse," Pires explained.

The evaluation is carried out in two stages: the first is done by a team of staff from Google, led by Pires in Latin America, which screens the proposals for eligibility. This team summarizes the project with a list of recommendations for the jury, made up of Google executives and two or three outside guests, whose names will be released in the coming months, he said. It is the jury who will decide which projects will be funded by the program, and the results will be released in the last quarter of 2019.

The Innovation Challenge is part of the Google News Initiative (GNI), launched in March 2018 with Google's commitment to invest $ 300 million over three years as "an effort to help journalism thrive in the digital age."

Also part of this effort are GNI’s support for courses organized by the Knight Center aimed at covering 2018 Brazilian elections; the project Comprova, a partnership of 24 Brazilian journalistic organizations against disinformation during elections; the fact-checking project Verificado in Mexico, as well as events and training for journalists worldwide.

According to Pires, there are many reasons for Google to care about and invest in strengthening journalism globally.

"Google believes that without journalism it is not possible to have a democracy that works in a healthy way," he said. "In addition, Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. For Google to achieve its mission, journalism has to exist. So the future of journalism and the future of Google are intertwined; there is no way for Google to succeed in its mission if journalism is not successful."

Another reason comes from the company's business point of view. "Google’s main product today is the search. People will only continue to use Google if the information available to them is quality information," he said. "One of the great producers of quality content is professional journalism. So it's a business interest, too, because Google does not produce information, it directs, and within the information ecosystem to which the search gives access, journalism is one of the most important parts."