Two SA media outlets announced as Google News Innovation Challenge winners_1

Google believes that quality journalism matters, that financial stability requires innovation, that the digital news ecosystem should remain open to publishers and consumers and that new technology presents new opportunities.

Therefore, the Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge aims to spread knowledge, and to find new and meaningful ways for news organisations to engage readers.

When the initiative first launched in 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, explained that “spreading knowledge to make life better for everyone” is the “heart of Google’s mission”. He added:

“It’s also the mission of publishers and journalists. Put simply, our futures are tied together.”

Further to that, Google made a $300m (R4.5 billion) commitment to help journalism thrive in the digital age.

The aim of the GNI

The first Middle East, Africa and Turkey GNI Innovation Challenge allowed everyone to inject new ideas and innovation in the news ecosystem.

In addition, Google vowed to focus on creative projects that demonstrate opportunities to increase reader engagement and support the development of new business models.

The Google News Initiative aims to, firstly, elevate and strengthen quality journalism. Secondly, to evolve business models to drive sustainable growth and lastly, to empower organisations through technological innovation.

The Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge panel

Google launched the Middle East, Turkey and Africa Innovation Challenge back in June 2019; and received 527 applications from 35 countries.

The judges panel consisted of Joyce Baz (Head of Communications, MENA), Ludovic Blecher (Head of GNI), Sarah Hartley (Applicants and Recipients Manager), Or Liban (Head of Global Partnerships, Russia & Israel: Or Liban), Akbur Ghafour (Lead, Tech Professional Services), and Mich Atagana, (Communications manager).

After a rigorous review, a round of interviews and a final jury selection process, the team at Google News Initiative selected 21 projects from 13 countries to receive $1.93m (R29m) in funding.

GNI Innovation Challenge winners announced

Two South African outlets made the cut: Daily Maverick proposed a ‘relevancy engine’ that would “aggregate data feeds about reader behaviour for small and medium publishers”.

In addition, Food For Mzansis citizen journalism project called ‘Ukukhuluma’ is aimed at South Africans in rural communities “who currently have very limited access to the internet”.

Ukukhuluma is a Zulu-language word for ‘reasoning’. Through the project, farmworkers and small-scale farmers will be upskilled as citizen journalists.

The complete list of winners for the first round can be found here. The second round of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa Innovation Challenge will open for applications later in the year.