These 33 projects tackle diversity in local news

Today we are announcing an important list of projects selected for the second round of the Google News Initiative’s North American Innovation Challenge. The challenges are meant to encourage a spirit of experimenting, and quite simply, trying new things. It is especially important this year to tackle innovative ideas, and the 33 projects we’re funding look at diversity, equity and inclusion through many different lenses, all focused around the communities they serve.

The Innovation Challenge received 215 applications from the US and Canada, and will fund 33 projects totaling $5.9 million.

We selected Ryerson University in Canada for JeRI: The Journalism Representation Index, an AI-powered tool that scores the institutional power of sources cited in news stories. “In this time of great change it’s really important as journalists that we ensure the stories we report on reflect a diversity of voices,” says Asmaa Malik, Associate professor at Ryerson University. “With JERI our hope is that we can rebuild trust with readers and offer them transparency into the process.” 

Our team selected The Houston Defender for their efforts in business transformation. Sonny Messiah-Jiles, the Defender’s CEO, says the Innovation Challenge “opens the doors of opportunity for us to combat undercapitalization, limited access to new technology and resources and expand our training of our staff. We’re striving to make sure we arrive where our audience wants us to be.” 

The Educational Video Center in New York pitched an idea to develop the infrastructure to distribute and monetize youth-produced documentary films from EVC’s digitized archive of over 200 short films. “Youth voices are underrepresented in mainstream media and important news stories are not being told,” says Ambreen Quresh, the group’s executive director. “To address this EVC will create the first of its kind B2B video licensing platform for mainstream media to acquire youth-produced documentary shorts and clips.”

Other recipients include Vox Media, which is creating a comprehensive, inclusive open-sourced style guide and editing resources designed to recognize bias in storytelling. The Local Media Foundation is creating Word in Black, a national news collaborative that is powered by 10 of the leading Black publishers. Save the Black Press, a project from Black Voice News in California, will create a data access portal, content discovery platform and resource support model for generating revenue and innovating content at black news organizations.

New Cinematic photos and more ways to relive your Memories

The holidays are always a great time to reflect on what really matters—for me, that’s my family, both near and back home in Europe. With Memories in Google Photos, I’m able to relive the moments—big and small—I’ve shared with my loved ones. Memories surfaces things like the  best photos of me and my son, family vacations and holidays from previous years, and even highlights from the past few days hanging out around the house.

Over the next month, you’ll start to see your Memories brought to life with Cinematic photos, updated collage designs and new features that highlight some of your favorite activities.

Relive the moment with Cinematic photos

Cinematic photos help you relive your memories in a way that feels more vivid and realistic—so you feel like you’re transported back to that moment. To do this, we use machine learning to predict an image’s depth and produce a 3D representation of the scene—even if the original image doesn’t include depth information from the camera. Then we animate a virtual camera for a smooth panning effect—just like out of the movies.

Google tools support more nonprofits in new ways

When 2020 brought uncertainty to communities around the world, nonprofits stepped up to help those in need. From moving educational programs online with Canada Learning Code to providing frontline coronavirus relief in Milan with Croce Rossa Italiana, the work of nonprofits around the world has inspired us. And we were proud to support hundreds of thousands of organizations with the tools and resources they needed to bring programs online and expand their impact. 

Here’s a look at how Google and the nonprofit community rose up to the challenges of 2020.

Expanded reach and access

This year, access to digital tools was crucial to continue operations, sustain productivity, and raise awareness. In April, we expanded Google for Nonprofits to an additional 16 countries, bringing our reach to a total of 67 countries around the globe. Jorge Gomes, the National Coordinator of VOST in Portugal, told us that Google for Nonprofits helped them streamline communication and project development so they could provide emergency information to health professionals during COVID-19.

Nonprofits sought to get the word out about their services. To help, we made it easier to use  Ad Grants, which gives nonprofits access up to $10,000 of credits per month for search advertising. FoodFinder, for example, focused on running ads related to keyword phrases like “food pantries near me” to provide information to the more than 25,000 people seeking food resources for themselves and family. 

We reduced the time it takes to request an Ad Grants account by 50 percent. And in partnership with the Applied Digital Skills team we developed a collection of digital skills lessons specifically for nonprofits which includes a step-by-step tutorial on how to launch and build an Ad Grants campaign. Now more nonprofits can use Ad Grants to drive their mission forward. 

More product tools and resources

At the start of the pandemic, we asked nonprofits about the challenges they faced and used that information to curate a set of resources to help use technology to navigate through these barriers. And we started broadcasting our live show on YouTube twice a month, where our experts dive into requested topics. 

We learned that larger nonprofits needed access to more advanced productivity tools, like increased cloud storage and enhanced security features. To meet this need, we announced new G Suite Business and Enterprise for Nonprofits discounts. The Last Mile, a nonprofit organization that prepares incarcerated individuals for successful reentry through business and technology training, upgraded to G Suite Enterprise for Nonprofits to streamline operations and boost efficiency. This played a huge role maintaining and growing the opportunities they provide despite the pandemic—which is hitting prison populations especially hard. 

And last but not least, video storytelling became a powerful tool during the pandemic for nonprofits to spread the word about their mission and impact. We partnered with YouTube to support the launch of  YouTube Giving. Already, fundraisers on YouTube have raised millions of dollars for nonprofits like The Bail Project and Goats of Anarchy. This powerful tool allows viewers to donate directly on YouTube through the live chat donations or the Donate button, and it’s now available to all YouTube Partner Program channels with more than 10,000 subscribers in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. 

Sharing nonprofit stories 

The stories of what nonprofits have accomplished this year inspire us. We’ve continued to highlight the amazing accomplishments of nonprofit organizations through videos, case studies, and conversation on social media. To thank our nonprofit community for doing so much to help so many, here’s a video that shows the impact of organizations from Colombia to Cambodia. 

Use Google TV to create your perfect holiday movie queue

As it starts to get colder outside, there’s nothing better than snuggling under a blanket with a warm cup of peppermint hot chocolate and enjoying a holiday movie marathon. That’s my recipe for a perfect December evening. 

Every year, I watch as many holiday movies as I can—and in the age of streaming, that can be a challenge. With so many options and so many places to discover them, the only problem is figuring out what to watch and in what order. This year, though, I have the solution: creating a Watchlist on Google TV. 

Whether you’re using the Google TV app on Android (in the U.S.) or watching on the new Chromecast with Google TV, you can use Google TV to find and make your movie list. It’s designed to make it easier to find what you’re looking for, so you don’t get all grinchy trying to figure out what to watch or what app something is available on. So, whether you’re watching solo or with your loved ones, here’s a guide to building your perfect holiday Watchlist and making your movie night (or month) tradition even better. 

Step 1. Start with search. On Google TV, you can find what to watch by searching for “holiday movies” and see a list of results from your favorite apps or what’s available for rent and purchase in Google Play. With Chromecast with Google TV, you can also ask Google with the voice remote to help show me “romantic holiday comedies” or “movies with reindeer.” 

Step 2. If you need some inspiration, check out this list of the top 15 most-searched holiday movie titles: 

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 

  2. The Grinch

  3. Die Hard

  4. Jingle All the Way

  5. Home Alone

  6. Love Actually

  7. It’s a Wonderful Life

  8. A Christmas Story 

  9. Miracle on 34th

  10. This Christmas

  11. Happiest Season

  12. Elf

  13. The Holiday

  14. Scrooged

  15. Gremlins

You can search for the specific title or even find a handy row with these movies, called “Most-Searched Holiday Movies 2020” on your For You tab.

Step 3. Once you have a title picked out, you can either watch right away or save it for later. To build your Watchlist for the holidays, just pick the titles you want and open the details page, you can add them to your Watchlist from there. As easy as that, you’ll have the movie saved to your Watchlist. The best part is that if you feel suddenly inspired and you’re not at home or your phone isn’t nearby, you can add movies to your Watchlist from Google Search on your other devices, and they’ll be in one place when you’re ready to binge.

Step 4. When settled on your couch and ready to press play, you can access your queue of holiday movies on your Google TV devices. On the TV, you can find your Watchlist in the Library tab whenever you need it; in the Google TV app on Android, look for the Watchlist tab.

So grab the remote, hit the couch and settle in for a holiday movie marathon. 

How to host a group video call to celebrate the holidays

This is the first year I won’t be celebrating the holidays in-person with family. I’ll be with my wife and young son, and like so many others, we plan on hosting a group video call to virtually “get together” with family and friends spread out across Ireland and England. Thankfully, Google Assistant can already help us make group video calls with Google Meet or Duo—and just in time for the holidays, an early preview of Zoom calling is starting to roll out on Nest Hub Max. So if you have a Zoom account in the U.S., U.K., Canada or Australia—whether it’s free or paid—keep an eye out for this new video calling option.

Because no one likes when their video call freezes mid-sentence, a good internet connection and solid Wi-Fi are a must. To help with that, Google Wifi and Nest Wifi just got even better by auto-detecting and prioritizing video conferencing on Google Meet and Zoom Meetings. 

Whichever holiday you celebrate this season, here are a few steps you can take to host your next virtual gathering.

Step 1. Ahead of the big day, create a Google Calendar invite on your phone or laptop and send it to everyone you’d like to add to your video call. You can add up to 100 people with Google Meet, so you have no excuse not to invite your second cousin once removed. If you’re planning to host your call through Meet, choose the “Add Google Meet video conferencing” option. It’s also OK if your family members don’t use Google Calendar—simply grab the meeting ID and share it with them via email, text or whichever way you keep in touch, and all they have to do is click it to join the video call with a web browser. 

Step 2. If you’re planning to host calls through Zoom on your Hub Max, you’ll need to link your Zoom account to your Google account beforehand. Just make sure to create your Zoom meeting ID first and add it to the calendar invite for your guests. 

Step 3. Use your Hub Max to open Zoom, Google Meet or Duo for your holiday celebration call. Just ask, “Hey Google, join my next meeting” to join the next video call on your Google Calendar. Or say, “Hey Google, start a Zoom call.”

Bonus tips:

  • Meet video calls are unlimited (up to 24 hours) through Mar. 31, 2021, so you won’t have to worry about your celebrations being cut short.

  • Choose which device you’ll use ahead of time—and try to place it near your router. If you have a mesh Wi-Fi system (like Nest Wifi and Google Wifi), your home will have smarter Wi-Fi coverage, so you may not need to worry about this! 

  • Did you know that Nest Wifi and Google Wifi users can make sure any device gets video calling preference by default? Just open the Google Home app (if you’re still using the Google Wifi app, you can easily migrate your network to get this feature), tap the Wi-Fi icon at the top and ensure that video conferencing is enabled in the preferred activities settings.

Making sense of 2020 through Search

For those of you staying indoors, what to watch helped you navigate endless streaming options, and when you searched  for “virtual museum tours” we delivered. For those seeking a “virtual classroom,” we introduced new Lens features to provide a friendly assist with math homework and more. 

While 2020 was no doubt a trying time for all, we hope we were able to help you find the information you needed to keep yourself and your family happy, healthy, and safe.

Our data centers support Europe's green economic recovery

Investing in our local communities

Partnerships at the local level make all the difference to communities. We have long worked with local NGOs in our data center communities and have donated millions to important initiatives in Europe, including skills training in cooperation with local colleges and universities. 

We have supported multiple education programmes focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), as well as environmental and cultural projects. For example, in Denmark we recently supported two projects with the Museum Fredericia that will promote local history through virtual experiences. In the Netherlands, we’ve helped with the preservation of local bee and butterfly populations. And in Ireland, during COVID-19, we’ve assisted vulnerable communities, and have given grants to local schools to provide students with laptops and enable home schooling.

We are proud to invest in Europe’s digital infrastructure, contribute to the local communities we operate in and support Europe’s green transition. This will be a decisive decade, and we are committed to leading by example.

Take holiday photos with Night Sight in Portrait Mode

It’s officially the holiday season, which means I can finally decorate my house—so there are lights everywhere. Usually, I’d have friends and family over to see my setup, but this year I’ll be celebrating with just my household. Instead of gathering in person, my friends, family and I are sending each other digital holiday cards, and I’ll be using Night Sight in Portrait Mode on my new Pixel 5 to get the perfect photo.

Night Sight in Portrait Mode is a new feature only on Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, and it lets you capture beautiful low-light images with sharp subjects and artistically-blurred backgrounds. While Night Sight in Portrait Mode takes incredible photos year-round, it’s perfect for capturing a selfie or photo in front of holiday lights—whether those are on your house, a tree or from a menorah or kinara’s candlelight.

Night Sight in Portrait Mode was designed to create professional quality low-light portraits with the tap of a button. Night Sight automatically engages in Portrait Mode when it’s dark enough, and, when you press the shutter button, Pixel’s new exposure bracketing technology will capture, align and merge up to 15 photos to improve low-light detail. To produce bright and vibrant portraits, Portrait Light was integrated directly into Pixel Camera to automatically enhance the lighting on people, and, in really dark scenes, Night Sight in Portrait Mode will autofocus using machine learning to keep your subjects sharp. After predicting the depth of the photo, Pixel will blur the background to create the beautiful bokeh that we love in professional portraits. 

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you nail the perfect holiday shot using Night Sight in Portrait Mode on your Pixel 4a (5G) or Pixel 5:

Tip #1:Accentuate the background lighting. Holiday lights can make for a perfect background because Portrait Mode will turn these small lights into beautiful bokeh circles. Just make sure you also tap on the subject you’d like to be in focus.

Image showing two women smiling at the camera. They are in focus while the decorated tree in the background is blurry.

Tip #2:Distance is important, so get properly set up. The photographer should be close to the subject, and the subject should have some distance from the background. My best photos position the photographer within four feet of the subject and the subject more than six feet from the background. If you’re socially distancing while taking a picture of a friend or family member that’s not of the same household, try placing Pixel on a tripod with the timer enabled, so that you can compose the photo, press the shutter button and move away as the subject enters the frame.

Image showing a woman in a yellow dress standing in a dark room in front of a decorated tree. The woman is well-lit and in focus while the tree in the background is blurred.

Tip #3: If you’re taking a Portrait Mode selfie or photo of someone else, make sure their face has some soft and ambient lighting; otherwise, the photo may be backlit and too dark. Portrait Light in Google Photos can also help you adjust the lighting on your photos after you take them.

Animated GIF showing a Pixel phone using the photo editor to choose what area of a photo shot in low light will be well-lit and in focus. The editor chooses the face of a woman who's smiling in front of a lit up tree.

Tip #4: If you want to capture a close-up of an ornament or other holiday decorations, make sure Pixel is really close to the subject for a macro shot. If you compose the photo such that small lights are far in the background, they will turn into large and beautiful bokeh discs that capture the beauty of the holidays.

Image showing a macro shot of an ornament hanging in a tree. The lights are low and there is decorative lighting, but the ornament remains in focus while the background is blurry.

Tip #5: If your photo isn’t coming out perfect, don’t worry—there are a few things you can try. If you see lens reflections in the viewfinder, try to angle the camera differently so that they disappear. And make sure the lens is cleaned and fingerprint-free; using a clean microfiber cloth can fix shots that are coming out soft and hazy. Lastly, remember to experiment! If you’re not happy with the lighting on your subject, try moving the subject or lighting around to get a better result.

On behalf of #teampixel, I hope you enjoy the holidays safely and capture beautiful memories with Night Sight in Portrait Mode on your Pixel 4a (5G) or Pixel 5.

Exposure Notifications: end of year update

For the last eight months we’ve been working with Apple on the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) to help public health authorities in their efforts to contain COVID-19. We wanted to provide an update on this work.

Saving lives at all levels of adoption

Since May, when this technology became available, public health authorities have launched Exposure Notifications in more than 50 countries, states and regions—an average of two apps each week. This week, California became the latest U.S. state to launch an app using ENS, joining the list of regions who have already made apps available.

By simply downloading your regional app, you can help public health authorities in their efforts to control COVID-19. There’s plenty of evidence that people are doing this: 40 percent of the population in the UK and 17 percent of the population in Uruguay have downloaded the app. In the United States, 20 percent of Colorado and 53 percent of Washington D.C. have enabled EN. There are other anecdotal signs that the system is helping: In September, the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, received an exposure notification, and in November, the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, had been infected and used Exposure Notifications to alert staff members who may have been exposed.

Research has revealed that exposure notifications can “save lives at all levels of uptake” and showed that a staff dedicated to working on contact tracing combined with 15 percent of the population using exposure notifications could reduce infections by 15 percent and deaths by 11 percent. In Ireland, early reports from their app indicated there were hundreds of EN notifications from people who had uploaded positive test results. A recent pilot in Spain showed that it could detect almost twice as many potential infections than manual contact tracing. 

Apple and Google’s framework offers a backbone for building privacy-centered apps for rapid exchange of data that can help protect and save lives. Judy Monroe
MD, President and CEO, CDC Foundation

Evolving based on feedback  

Exposure Notifications became available to public health agencies in May to build apps on both Android phones and iPhones. It was built on feedback resulting from more than one hundred technical briefings with state public health officers, state epidemiologists, and where appropriate, their commissioned app developers. Major public health organizations that have been consulted include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC Foundation, the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the American Public Health Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the Task Force for Global Health.

In July, based on feedback, we published some updates to ENS including the reference verification server, implementation code, and telemetry design. Since then, U.S. public health authorities that have not yet designed their own apps and want more support in launching an app can use Exposure Notifications Express. This reduces the time it takes public health authorities to develop an app by simply providing Google and Apple with a configuration file, which is then used to provide exposure notifications. Many of these apps in the United States work together so that if you travel across state lines you can still get exposure notifications. The Association of Public Health Laboratories made this possible by hosting a national key server and they offer a list of interoperable U.S. apps. We want to be flexible and support whatever approach works best on a country by country level.

The goal of this project is to assist public health authorities in their efforts by enabling exposure notification in a privacy-preserving manner. We will continue to work with them to help you protect yourself and your community during this pandemic and we plan to keep you updated here with new information again next year. 

20 years of Year in Search

Twenty years ago, Google published its very first end-of-year list, called the Year-End Google Zeitgeist. Looking back, it’s clear how much some things have changed (please see the list of the top 10 MP3 music resources), and how much they stay the same (decades later and we’re still watching some of these sitcoms). 

Originally, these year-end lists evolved out of an internal project, eventually becoming the annual, public-facing report in 2001. “It’s not a million miles away from what we do now,” says Google Data Trends editor Simon Rogers, looking back on that very first site. 

The original year-end collection wasn’t just created as a way for people to reflect on Search trends; it was also a way for people, including those who work in marketing or media, to find interesting stories and understand more about the events, people and moments of a certain year. 

These days, Year in Search is accompanied by a film that showcases the emotion behind the searches and trends of the year. “We also started finding a theme—this year it’s ‘why,’ which was at an all-time high in Google Trends history,” says Simon.  

Engineer Roni Rabin has been working on Year in Search for the past eight years and she’s seen it become increasingly sophisticated over time. “It’s always a really special moment once Year in Search launches and we see the world discovering the video and the lists.” 

And this year, there’s been plenty to discover. Simon calls 2020 a “dramatically interesting year for Search.” Past topics he remembers as significant for Search trends include weather events and the 2016 election—but nothing quite compares to the communal global interests of 2020. “These big, shared moments that affect everybody, they’re pretty rare,” he says. “And just to see so many crammed into such a short period of time, one year, is pretty unusual. I haven’t really seen anything like this.”

While Year in Search has changed over the years, there’s a hopefulness about the project that’s remained. “One of the things that makes me happy every year is how alike we are,” Simon explains. “Despite how different and divided we can be, this year especially, the data really showed how much we have in common.”