A new local news venture based in Oakland, California has received $1.56 million in funding from the Google News Initiative (GNI) per Axios. The Google News Initiative broadly seeks to provide funding, tools, and training to support the revitalization of the struggling local news industry, a sector which has witnessed a net loss of approximately 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, per UNC.
The Oakland venture will be the third local news organization Google has funded this year as part of its $300 million commitment to support local journalism, and it represents the largest community served by a GNI partnership.
Google’s initiative likely has two overarching motivations:
- To redefine its increasingly frayed relationship with news media and other publishers. Google’s not alone in this effort: Facebook also kickstarted a $300 million initiative to provide grants to local newsrooms and only recently began paying larger publishers directly to supply content to its curated Facebook News tab. As the two platforms subsume a larger share of digital ad revenues — a key revenue source for digital publishers — and face political scrutiny for their role in disseminating “fake news,” the platforms are attempting to mitigate some of the issues they’ve caused.
- To ensure Google Search and its other products are continually supplied with timely and localized information from a robust ecosystem of local publishers. While Google’s efforts are at least partially motivated by a desire among platforms to combat the perception that they’ve unilaterally harmed the publishing industry, the platform also has an explicit incentive to keep local publishers afloat because they supply its platform with essential content: 46% of all Google Searches are seeking local information per GoGulf, and local news organization play an important role in producing that content.
With its most recent partnership, Google may also be signaling support for the non-profit approach to local media. A central objective of the Google News Initiative has been to experiment with and develop sustainable business models in the struggling local news industry, primarily through its Local Experiments Project which now includes McClatchy’s Compass Experiment and Archant’s Project Neon.
Its newest, as of yet unnamed venture, will derive revenue from a mix of non-profit donations, live experiences, and underwriting from corporations. It’s also the latest local publisher to shift toward a business model that allows it to accept both donations and paid advertisements through a 501(c)(3) designation: Fellow Bay Area news organization Berkeleyside has been building a non-profit network of local publishers in the region to which this Oakland project will be added.
And in October, the Salt Lake Tribune was one of 34 local news projects to be selected to win funding in Google’s Innovation Challenge — its plan is to transition into a non-profit organization. Google’s departure from experimentation in favor of directly funding the non-profit Oakland project could signal that it’s found a model it likes.
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