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Google News Initiative

These 25 publishers want to know their communities

Video featuring winning Innovation Challenge teams.
We can’t write about our communities without understanding them and being part of them. We don’t want to just parachute ourselves in and stick the microphone under their mouths, we really want to come at this as a way to serve them. Christelle Saint-Julien, journalist at La Converse

The third North America Innovation Challenge has selected 25 projects out of 190 from Canada and the U.S. to receive a share of more than $3.2 million USD to help build their ideas that address the need for research in local news.

This latest Challenge, part of a program designed to stimulate forward-thinking ideas focused on the news industry, was launched in June to support news innovators looking to research how they could better understand the local communities they serve. The selection process involves a rigorous review, a round of interviews and a final jury selection effort.

Among the successful applicants are:

  • Documented, a non-profit newsroom fiscally sponsored by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which provides local news for and about New York City’s 3.1 million immigrants. They will use research to define, test and pilot a product and messaging strategy to expand their reach to Chinese and Caribbean immigrant communities.
  • Metroland, the community news media branch of Canadian national publisher Torstar brings Metroland Indigenous: Truth Through Storytelling — a dedicated effort to address a deficiency in news coverage of and for Indigenous peoples in Ontario.
  • A group of nonprofit and for-profit organizations based in Georgia coordinated by the women-led local publisher The Current is building a framework for organizers to collaborate on online local news delivery in the interest of better serving their community.
  • Minnesota-based news startup Sahan Journal is collaborating with three community media outlets to launch Citizen Lab, a series of public editorial meetings to check in with the communities they collectively serve and produce news in Somali, Hmong and Spanish.
  • La Converse in Quebec will be testing new approaches in order to broaden their French language offering in terms of stories and formats — for example, they’re testing things like text-based news service and audio formats.
  • Wick Communications, a family-owned local news company, will partner with ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to research new products and strategies to facilitate healthy online discourse in small Arizonan communities.

Read the full list of the successful recipients at We extend our sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to apply .

Trends and lessons

Today’s North American winners brings our total of Innovation Challenges to nine running across 93 countries over the past three years. The program initially launched in Asia Pacific with a call for applications looking at new ideas to generate reader revenue. Across all these challenges, we’ve received over 2,500 project applications, creating 227 projects covering Latin America, the Middle East, Turkey and Africa and North America and resulting in over $30 million USD in funding. While there’s been much to learn along the way, the selected news organizations have reported results beyond expectations, with 75% of projects bringing a measurable increase in audience growth and engagement and more than 50% of the recipients already seeing a measurable increase in monetization.

A group of people standing against a brick wall, all looking into the camera and smiling.

The team from successful Innovation Challenge recipient Borderless Magazine from Illinois, which serves a diverse audience of people mostly under 40 years of age. They will be experimenting with new distribution and engagement strategies for their Spanish and English audiences.

Over 50% (1,301) of the applications we received across all Innovation Challenges were focused on audience engagement and monetization. Many North American local or regional publishers recognized the need for direct reader revenue, and over time their focus has shifted to optimization and retaining subscribers .

North American online-only publishers, and local or regional publishers from other areas such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, are still focused on scale, but they are also beginning to experiment with reader revenue and understand the need for improved engagement.

We’re also seeing a need for cultural change, in newsrooms and in coverage, becoming an area of focus for these Innovation Challenges. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) have been necessary elements for applicants’ projects since early 2020. As a result it drove 1,000 applications, 223 interviews and over $13 million in funding. Over 60% of applicants reported that DEI was of strong importance to their organization.

You can read more about the successful recipients around the globe. The Innovation Challenges program will continue in 2022, with application dates to be announced on the Keyword blog and through the GNI Newsletter.

And over the next week, we’ll be highlighting a series of stories from news innovators who have launched projects in France, Indonesia, India, the U.S. and Chile — stay tuned to this space for more.

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