On 17th November, Google announced the second round of funding of the Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund, Google’s €150m commitment to spark new thinking and give European news organisations of all sizes the space to try some new things, experiment and innovate in the digital space. Round two funding totalled €24 million to 124 projects originating from 25 European countries.

In October 2015, we issued the first call for applications to the Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund. Since that time our team has had the opportunity to speak to thousands of ambitious European newsrooms, individuals, traditional publishing houses, startups and academics and to discover the stunning amount of research and development going on across the news sector here. With November’s funding announcement, the Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund has so far distributed €51M to these efforts, and we’re just getting started.

In this second round of funding, in addition to the main criteria of impact, innovation and project feasibility that were set out as parameters from the outset of the Fund, we looked for projects focused on collaboration. The projects that stood out prioritise collaborative approaches between publishers, academics, designers and entrepreneurs, both within a single country and across Europe.

We received more than 850 project submissions from 25 countries, and of the 124 projects funded today, 43 are committed to the spirit of collaboration and partnership. And among the 30 Large projects selected for funding, 15 are collaborative. We see this collaboration–across countries, across newsrooms and across specialties–as an amazing display of the intent to energise the European news ecosystem with new ideas, new technologies and more.

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The full list of projects offered funding to date can be found at digitalnewsinitiative.com/fund. The Fund is one arm of the Digital News Initiative; the two additional pillars of focus are Research & Training and Product Development, which includes the Accelerated Mobile Pages project and the YouTube Player for Publishers.

The Digital News Initiative now counts 180+ members from across the European news industry and is focused on three pillars of advancement: product development, research and training, and the funding of new journalistic approaches via the Fund.

We caught up with Humak, recipients of the Fund from Finland, to tell us more about their application:
Humak, in cooperation with XAMK, Viparo and ANAD; Finland

Q: Please tell us a bit about your project and its scope

A: In a global first, the Visual Sign News (VISN) project will create a website that provides easy access to news for people who are deaf and live in countries where sign language is still not recognised as an official language.

On the site, the language used is a modification of International Sign Language – combining elements of sign languages with intensified use of iconic and pantomimic structures. The news will be presented on a visually accessible site with a graphically informative background. The background is created using cooperative design methods and a multicultural, mutual learning approach. Overall the project will create a production pipeline for the European signed news production.

Visual Sign News is a non-profit project where the knowledge learned and shared by participants may be distributed elsewhere, to create similar information or news services where sign language and graphics are needed.

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Mock ups from the Visual Sign News project

Q: What advice would you have for others applying to the DNI Fund?

A: Let your intuition lead, and believe in your dream. At the beginning, work quickly to develop to prototype, with people who are not afraid of the impossible! For us, it was helpful to collaborate with proven and experienced parties (maybe from unexpected areas, to bring in fresh air) who you can trust and work well with. For example, to clearly demonstrate the scope of the project, we found it incredibly useful to work with a skilled graphics designer ahead of presenting the plan to prospective partners and investors. Finally, as with any project plan, the process will take at least twice as long as expected!

Q: How has the process of applying to the DNI Fund helped you innovate?

A: In our previous multicultural project, we came up against many challenges which ultimately gave us an insight into which aspects of sign language are dependent on culture, language, education and language modality. This application process made us really aware that our tool could also be used in other contexts where language and culture independent communication is needed, for example cross-cultural communication or when working with illiteracy. We have innovated and tested how to master using the non-language-specific parts of sign languages, overcome different geographic variations, integrate a piece of news produced by ‘plain sign language’ in our mock-up, and present this on a constantly developing website.

Google and its Digital News Initiative will be joining the Media Honeypot conference in Helsinki on the 9th of February. If you would like to meet them there, you can apply to the conference here.

Media Honeypot connects 400+ media executives, digital business owners, investors, startups and growth companies.