Black Press Media has announced a major agreement with Google Canada, marking an initiative that will allow the community news network to reach wider audiences while ensuring the resilience of digital community journalism.

The newspaper legacy media company is one of seven Canadian publishers to sign an agreement with the multinational technology company, in line with the launch of Google News Showcase, a new product and licensing program that provides a customizable space for news content in Google News and Discover.

It’s not just about content licensing but also an agreement that will help Black Press Media thrive in the digital space, said CEO Rick O’Connor.

“Most of the communities that we operate in, [the journalists] are the only connection to journalism in their communities – the only people telling stories… So without our team, there is no lifeline to professional journalism coverage, and I think that’s critical and important ” O’Connor said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven how integral the sharing of accurate information is.

At this time, 27 of Black Press Media’s roughly 80 publications will be part of the initiative – a majority of which are operations of one to two journalists.

Black Press Media publications include Abbotsford News, Red Deer Advocate, Nanaimo News Bulletin, as well as Yukon News and the recently acquired NNSL Media – both located in areas of the country where viable journalism is very scarce, O’Connor said.

“To me, what’s really good for our papers is that people will be able to go onto Google News Showcase and see a feed that is really wide-ranging and not something they’ll get anywhere else.”

Thursday’s announcement builds on News Showcase deals signed by more than 700 news publications around the world, of which more than 90 per cent represent local news.

“We’ve never relied on high-quality journalism – especially when it’s created in our own communities – more than we have during the COVID crisis,” said Sabrina Geremia, Vice-President and Country Head at Google Canada.

“The work of Canadian journalists has been a lifeline, keeping us connected with essential information like changes to stay-at-home orders and where and when to get vaccinated. As we move out of this crisis, Google Canada is stepping up our role in supporting a sustainable news ecosystem in Canada, just as we have in countries all over the world. The need has never been greater, and our commitment has never been stronger.”

Part of the commitment by Google Canada includes further funding to the Google News Initiative with a focus on training journalists of tomorrow to find success in the digital age of storytelling.

Over the next three years, Google will train 5,000 Canadian journalists and journalism students on strengthening digital skills in the newsrooms – a five-times increase from the 1,000 journalists the mega-company has already trained to date.

Google Canada will also be expanding support for small and mid-sized news organizations, as well as launching boot camps for aspiring Canadian news entrepreneurs starting a business or non-profit journalism project.

O’Connor said part of the investment by Google Canada will go directly to supporting Black Press Media’s boots-on-the-ground news publications, from recruitment to training.

“I really do believe that the quality of our journalism and how we present it is directly related to the overall success of our business,” O’Connor said.

The federal government is currently considering legislation, similar to Australia and France, that could force tech companies to not only pay for news on their platforms but also regulate problematic content.

In May, Facebook announced similar content agreements with 14 publishers. Under a news innovation test program, the various deals with the California-based tech giant included the National Observer, the Tyee, Village Media, Daily Hive and Discourse Media for undisclosed amounts.

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