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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.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Donald and Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

2 hours ago - Podcasts

Google's chief health officer Karen DeSalvo on vaccinating America

Google on Monday became the latest Big Tech company to get involved with COVID-19 vaccinations. Not just by doing things like incorporating vaccination sites into its maps, but by helping to turn some of its offices and parking lots into vaccination sites.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into what Google is doing, and why now, with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google's chief health officer who previously worked at HHS and as health commissioner for New Orleans.

Biden signs order overturning Trump's transgender military ban

Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

President Biden signed an executive order on Monday overturning the Trump administration's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

Why it matters: The ban, which allowed the military to bar openly transgender recruits and discharge people for not living as their sex assigned at birth, affected up to 15,000 service members, according to tallies from the National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender American Veterans Association.