Mar 26, 2019

Exclusive: Google partners to fund new local media sites

Photo: Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Google is launching the Local Experiments Project, an effort to fund dozens of new local news websites around the country and eventually around the world. The tech giant says it will have no editorial control over the sites, which will be built by partners it selects with local news expertise.

Why it matters: Big tech companies like Google and Facebook are often blamed for the demise of the local news business model. Now, both are trying to fix the broken local news ecosystem for the sake of their audiences, which they say crave more local news.

"Everything we do in this space tends to be open-sourced learnings. Our business models are not attached to these efforts. There's no requirement in any of these experiments that the partners use Google advertising tools."
— Richard Gingras, VP of news, Google

Details: The first effort within the new Local Experiments Project will be ‘The Compass Experiment," which is a partnership between Google and McClatchy to launch three new, digital-only local news operations on multiple platforms.

  • McClatchy will maintain sole editorial control and ownership of the sites and Google will have no input or involvement in any editorial efforts or decision making.
  • Google says the investments will be significant. "We will be spending many millions of dollars on this overall," says Richard Gingras, Google's VP of news.
  • McClatchy will choose 3 cities that are less than a half million people for the site launches. It hasn't announced any hiring plans, but people familiar with the efforts say there will eventually be people on the ground in those cities.
  • Smaller cities will be the focus. McClatchy CEO Craig Forman says it's targeting cities with less than a half million people because that's where local news decay is worst. Gingras says those cities are important because people there have a strong sense of community, which can harder to tap into at the metro and national levels.

Between the lines: McClatchy will be the first of many "experiments" within the Local Experiment Project. The goal is to use the lessons from McClatchy's efforts, and others in the future, to create a network of shared insights that can be leveraged by everyone in the local news business.

  • "This allows us to move beyond some of the incrementalism that seems like it's the core of our day-in and day-out job, but can hold us back from pursuing things related to a long-term vision," says Forman.
  • Google says it chose to partner with McClatchy to launch the project because it's a local news company with an existing relationship with Google and a strong technology background. McClatchy CEO Craig Forman is a former newsman and tech executive.
  • Google’s objective is to test the business models and operational aspects necessary to succeed in local news.

Be smart: Google has rolled out several local news efforts in the past few weeks, around the first anniversary of its Google News Initiative — a pledge to invest $300 million in news media transition to digital over three years. The Local Experiments Project will use funds from the broader Google News Initiative to fund the new sites.

What's next: If successful, Google may expand its tools and services to enable others to launch similar sites in other places in the U.S. and around the world. Gingras points to examples of news sites in Canada, France and the U.S. as examples of local news businesses that can thrive with the right strategies and investments.

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