We applied to Google's €150m journalism fund – here's what we sent in
Now we play the waiting game
The initiative's goal is to "support high-quality journalism through technology and innovation" and you are able to apply online for anything up to €1 million.
This is great news. Despite an increase in interest in online news, the fact remains that proper journalism, especially investigative journalism, is expensive and time consuming.
And in this vacuum of scrutiny, there is one company in particular whose enormous power and resources and its willingness to use them to push its agenda to the detriment of all else means it is crying out to be the focus of concerted journalistic attention.
Whether it is lobbying the White House and regulators to grant it a special carve-out in net neutrality rules, or forfeiting half a billion dollars to the US government for running dodgy drug adverts, or using its search engine results to muscle out competitors and reap the financial rewards, or analyzing and storing every waking minute of our lives, Google is probably the most persistently dangerous force in our modern online existence.
And so that's why we have applied to Google's Digital News Initiative today seeking just €250,000 for a focused effort on making the search giant accountable by using journalistic skills combined with modern internet technology.
We have titled the project: "Investigating abuses by Google," and we believe we are the first applicant to the program.
Below then are the key elements of our application form. We look forward to hearing back from Google so we can start working on dismantling its carefully constructed ivory tower.
8. Please provide your project title. (max 300 characters)*
Investigating abuses by Google
9. Please provide a brief overview of the project. (max 1200 characters)*
The project would use a combination of traditional news gathering skills and modern communication tools to gather data around a range of practices performed by internet search engine giant Google, in an effort to expose potential wrongdoing or abuse of market power.
In particular, the project would focus on:
- The skewing of search results.
- The tracking of right-to-be-forgotten requests performed by Google.
- The size, breadth, and impact of Google's news service on online news sites, looking in particular at the phenomenon of stories written specifically to gather Google News traffic and any possible negative impact on quality journalism due to biases in the Google News algorithm.
- A logging and policy-tracking service to discern the impact of Google lobbying activities on policies and laws developed in Washington DC.
- An open source complaints system focused on gathering early warning signs of abuse of market power by Google.
- A "revolving door" service that specifically tracks current and former Google employees to identify how informal social networks may be used to influence public policy.
10. Please describe your project in more detail, including the specific outcome you want to achieve and its broader impact. (max 5000 characters)*
The project would be an innovative effort to improve accountability around one specific company – Google.
Using a combination of traditional news-gathering skills, extensive data gathering from many different sources, and cutting-edge analytics, the project would identify, if they exist, examples of where Google was abusing its market power or misleading others in furtherance of its own corporate goals.
The project would use the latest technologies to gather data from a wide range of public sources in an effort to discern patterns. These patterns would then be used as the start point for journalistic investigations into potential abuses of power by Google and its employees.
The details of investigations would be posted online in an effort to encourage crowdsourcing of additional material. Stories would then be professionally directed and edited and posted online as well as syndicated to other news outlets.
11. What makes your project innovative? Provide a quick description of the technological and editorial components and describe the deliverable product. (max 5000 characters)
The project would combine traditional news gathering with the data-gathering potential of the internet in order to discern unusual patterns.
Initial details of investigations would be posted online in order to encourage others to provide additional evidence to build into a firmer, crowdsourced story. Specific attention would be given to identifying and protecting potential whistleblowers inside Google in order to build up a solid case.
A new data gathering process would pull in details from a multitude of public sources and combine them to find patterns. For example, the visitor logs of the White House would be periodically inputted and then cross-referenced with the activities of Google representatives in order to discern efforts to sway particular legislation.
Similarly, broader efforts by the search engine giant to profit from its market power would be achieved by analyzing vast datasets to look for inconsistencies and potential financial benefits from them.
The goal would be to build a complete overview of a single organization's activities so that it was possible to identify anything that may be newsworthy or suspicious.
14. How are other organizations tackling this topic and what approaches have been tried in the past? Feel free to mention successful or not so successful examples. (max 4000 characters)
Many large news organizations have used traditional news skills to find out how Google may be abusing its significant power to its own ends, but these are often inefficient and reliant on a small number of people finding small indicators and then digging into them in order to find more information.
Such an approach is time consuming and rarely heralds good stories. Typically, a story requires someone from within the organization to provide details on something they are unhappy about. Or reporting is based on external organizations carrying out investigations in response to competitor complaints.
Good examples would be the antitrust investigations carried out by the US government and European Commission into Google; lawsuits taken out against Google over alleged search-result manipulation; lawsuits over the "right to be forgotten," and so on.
15. Provide a budget describing the main costs of your project including your expenditures. First, please review the list of Eligible Expenses in the Application Terms and Conditions. (max 6000 characters)*
- Dedicated team of three journalists: 150,000
- Data gathering and analysis tools: 50,000
- Online tools for crowdsourcing: 50,000
16. What are the key indicators you will use to track progress towards the outcome you described previously? (max 5000 characters)*
- Arrival of data and connections made with internal whistleblowers.
- Lines of inquiry causing an aggressive response from Google.
17. If available, please provide an overview of the monetization plan of your project. (max 5000 characters)
Stories exposing alleged wrongdoing at Google are unlikely to draw huge online audiences. Advertisements placed on the same page as the stories would bring in significant income, i.e., traditional online news revenue.
The system when fully developed, tested, and tweaked to analyze data around a single organization as well as provide ways to feed in crowdsourced data would be extremely valuable to other news organizations and could be sold or leased.
18. Please provide specific milestones and planning (initiation, definition, design, implementation, follow-up). (max 3000 characters)*
- Development of systems.
- Identification of new team.
- Gathering of data.
- Analysis of data and system recognizing and highlighting patterns.
- First initiation with an internal whistleblower.
- First publication of an initial scoping investigation.
- First legal threat from Google.
- First batch of negative publicity against program fed by Google's PR.
- First completed and published story.
Thank you for submitting your application to the DNI Innovation Fund! Your application reference number is: ███████████████. Please make a note of this reference number, as we will need this to be able to help you with any communication about your application. We've sent you a confirmation email with your application reference number. If you have any questions about your application, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The DNI Innovation Fund Project Team (Please check your spam folder to make sure you don't miss our email!)
Thanks Google! Where would journalism be without you? ®
Editor's note after publication: You'll be shocked to learn that we were not successful in our application.