A sustainable digital model for local news: That’s the aim of a three-year partnership between Google and U.K. publisher Archant. Project Neon will rethink local news from every perspective, from storytelling to layout, from business models to website design. It builds on Archant’s open-minded approach to building new models for journalism, from the launch of The New European to the archive voice-search platform Local Recall.
Project Neon will target up to three U.K. communities, identified as being currently underserved by local news. The project will build new all-digital news platforms for those communities, created in a concerted effort to reverse the commercial challenges local news publishers have faced in the past decade.
Archant’s project team will work closely with a team of experts at Google, who are providing funding for the project as part of the Local Experiments Project of the Google News Initiative. Archant is the second partner worldwide in this project, following McClatchy in the United States, which launched their Compass Experiment in March.
The new businesses created under Project Neon will be 100 percent owned and operated by Archant. Google’s interest lies in developing digital business models and operational approaches that can be shared with the wider industry, and while they are providing expertise and funding, they will have no input whatsoever in editorial decision-making.
We at Archant have been in the news business since 1845, when four free-thinking businessmen launched a weekly newspaper called The Norfolk News. Now, nearly 175 years later, we have a collection of more than 50 local news brands across the U.K. It's no secret that in recent years, our industry has been more challenged than at any other time in its history. But local news is as important as ever, and if we are going to find a sustainable digital-only model, it is bold experiments such as Project Neon that will help provide a pathway to thriving local news.
With support and expertise from the Google News Initiative, I believe Archant has the potential to deliver exciting new solutions for local news brands, not only in the U.K. but also in other parts of the world where the local news business is in decline. We will release more details of the project in the near future, including the locations of our target communities. We will chronicle our successes (and, no doubt, our failures) and share them publicly with the industry at large, enabling other media companies to do similar work.
Nobody can accurately predict how the future of local journalism will look. But with our shared vision for building strong communities, Archant and the Google News Initiative will break new ground towards the goal of a local news industry that not only survives, but thrives. Those interested can sign up to receive updates on Project Neon.