From Morges to the Vallée de Joux, Google distributes its dollars to the media

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There is a link between the town of Mountain View, California, Morges and the Vallée de Joux. This link is Google. From its American headquarters, the multinational finances hundreds of local media, including Swiss ones. So the Journal of Morges and the Joux Valley Notice Sheet recently each received a payment of $ 5,000. These “donations” are far, very far from being disinterested: accused by many media, even countries – there was the recent example of Australia -, of looting the content of publishers, Google wants to show that it supports journalism. But that does not solve the basic problem, believes Swiss Media, the umbrella organization for press editors.

It is within the framework of this battle between publishers and Google that it seemed interesting to us to describe how the multinational goes about financing projects and looking after its image. And it’s Cédric Jotterand, editor-in-chief and owner of Journal of Morges (10 employees, 6,500 daily subscribers), who contacted us to share their experience. It started in April 2020, when Google launched its “Emergency Journalism Fund”. “I learned of the existence of this fund while browsing – it’s rather ironic – on Facebook,” says Cédric Jotterand. I said to myself “why not?” and then I filled out an online form in English. Google wanted to fund projects and that was a good idea, because we were then in the process of redesigning our website. ”

“I gave up”

The editor is patient. A few days later, the multinational sends him new forms to fill out. Media turnover, owner’s name, number of readers, there are many questions. “And in July, I get a positive response. I was very surprised, I almost forgot that I had applied, continues Cédric Jotterand. And the promised money means a lot to us: $ 5,000 is the equivalent of one page of advertising in our newspaper. ” But the steps are not finished. “To receive the money, it was then necessary to complete financial documents including a tax number in the United States. I contacted my bank and gave it up: I returned the form partly empty and I said to myself that I was not going to spend more in American legal fees than the 5000 dollars promised… ”

But at the end of 2020, surprise, Cédric Jotterand receives the sum, or exactly 4442 Swiss francs. “This has enabled us to finance a fairly innovative part of the site, where the candidates for the elections of 62 municipalities in the region can present themselves. So I am happy to have received this sum. But at the same time, I am aware of the fierce competition that the American giants offer us in the advertising market. ” The editor cites an example: “We don’t really realize it, but they are already attacking us locally. I thus know a person who takes care of the nails at home. But she prefers to buy advertising on Instagram [propriété de Facebook, ndlr] for 100 to 200 francs per month, rather than buying advertisements in our newspaper or website. ”

Read also: The war between Facebook and Australia concerns Switzerland

Follow-up by phone

Cédric Baudat, editor of the Joux Valley Opinion Sheet – a weekly with 2,800 subscribers – had a different experience. “Google contacted me by email. At first I was sure it was a scam in English. I told my staff about it and they told me that we had nothing to lose. But a lot of forms had to be filled out and I didn’t return the last one. Suddenly, a Google employee called me to follow up and ask for my bank details. ” Cédric Baudat also received the equivalent of $ 5,000. “For us, it’s almost money falling from the sky. We have appreciated for months that the canton of Vaud helps us by buying advertisements. We did not ask the question of Google’s motivations. “

These two media are not the only ones to have received money from Google in recent months. Intended to “help small and medium-sized press companies to produce original information at the local level”, the fund donated the equivalent of 195,000 dollars to 23 Swiss media, including The Coast, La Gruyère or The Lavaux-Oron Courier. In total, more than 5,500 media outlets around the world, typically employing 2 to 100 journalists, received money. The total amount paid is not known but must have been counted in millions of dollars.

Read more: Take the money or not? Swiss newspapers divided over Google

Swiss media criticism

Previously, via its “Digital News Initiative Fund”, Google had contributed, between 2015 and 2019, $ 150 million to help 662 media projects in Europe. The equivalent of 3.4 million euros had been donated for 15 ideas in Switzerland. Time had then benefited from 45,000 euros for his “Zombie” project, an algorithm identifying past content that deserves new publication on the site.

This funding does not solve the basic problem of long-term remuneration for publishers, whose content is sucked in by the tech giants, believes Swiss Media. Recently, Daniel Hammer, its secretary general, told us that “these are pure public relations initiatives by which Google and Facebook seek to improve their image. They do not constitute real compensation for the editorial content used by these platforms. ”

Facebook is also launching

Facebook is also profiled on media aid. The social network claims that through its “Facebook Journalism Project”, it has invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” with 2,600 publishers around the world – there is no detail for Switzerland. The firm headed by Mark Zuckerberg has just announced a billion dollar aid plan over the next three years. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Facebook has also launched workshops to help publishers make money with their content.