Google News Initiative Launches Project Oasis, Supports Local News Entrepreneurs

The Google News Initiative is partnering with the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM), LION Publishers and Table Stakes’ Doug Smith to launch a new initiative called Project Oasis, aimed at delivering insights and practical tools to news entrepreneurs.

The project’s goal is to help local news organizations “navigate the complex choices they face in establishing and growing their digital business,” wrote Susan Leath, director of the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, in a post for GNI’s Keyword blog today.



Project Oasis was imagined in response to UNC’s News Deserts Project, which showed nearly 25% of local newspapers were closed between 2004 and 2018, a total of 1,800. An additional 3,000 have been lost in the two years since, while others have undergone drastic restructuring, due to cost cuts.

Through its work, Project Oasis will develop a database of local news sites across the U.S. and Canada, create case studies of local publishers, with a special focus on how and why they’re making business choices and create a “Starter Pack” to be shared with aspiring entrepreneurs.

The “Starter Pack” will include tools like step-by-step guidance and checklists to support the early stages of starting and running a business.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to produce a guide to help entrepreneurs start local news businesses, and existing local news startup founders learn from the successes of their peers. This guide won’t be prescriptive; we won’t favor one tax status over another; we won’t mandate that success equals using any particular CMS; we won’t declare that financial sustainability can only come via the use of programmatic advertising or paid referral services,” Chris Krewson, executive director, LION Publishers, wrote in a Medium post.

“The reality is we need to try to learn from as many approaches as possible, because every community and business problem is different and our tools and platforms are rapidly changing.”

The project looks to create more resources focused on digital local news entrepreneurs as its work progresses.

Anika Anand is set to lead LION’s portion of the project, which will target the most pressing and relevant questions across the industry and determine the best organizations to tap for information. LION has also ready reached out to 800 publications it seeks to survey.

The GNI Local Experiments project will lend digital expertise and research from lessons learned through work with global partners who have created new digital local news organizations.

Finally, Smith, who also founded Media Transformation Challenge in addition to his work with Table Stakes, will lend expertise culled from his work with more than 150 local news organizations across the U.S. and Europe.

“I believe local news is an essential element of a strong democracy. These information outlets build trust, inspire civic engagement and bring communities together. Through new research and resources, we believe this project has the potential to help shape a bright future for local news,” Leath wrote.

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