Abstract: The Google News Initiative (GNI) aims to collaborate closely with the news industry and financially support the creation of quality journalism in the digital age. It also aims to bring technological advancements and innovation into newsrooms’ operations. Drawing on journalism innovation and responsible innovation theories, this study examines GNI beneficiaries in Africa and the Middle East. To address this, we analysed GNI projects’ descriptions combined with thirteen (n = 13) in-depth interviews with leading actors and beneficiary news organisations to answer two main questions: (a) What are the main characteristics of the technological innovations proposed by GNI Innovation Challenge grantees in Africa and the Middle East? and (b) How are these news media organisations becoming increasingly dependent on these platforms’ technological and financial aspects? Anchored in journalism innovation, responsible innovation, and platformisation theories, our findings show that funded organisations heavily depend on Google’s technological and financial infrastructure to innovate. Furthermore, we note that some projects do not offer a clear path for sustainability in the future. We further argue that this initiative builds an infrastructure of power and dependency that poses risks to responsible innovation in journalism. Our study contributes to extant scholarship on digital platforms and their role in the infrastructure of news organisations, creating power asymmetries between those who serve as the backbone for data flows and technological processes and those dependent on these institutions.
Keywords: artificial intelligence; business models; data; dependence; Google News Initiative; innovation; news; philanthrocapitalism; platform