We are excited to share the 87 recipients of our first GNI Innovation Challenges in Asia-Pacific, North America, and Latin America representing 26 countries around the regions. This funding will enable our partners to develop sustainable business models by diversifying revenue streams and/or increasing audience engagement. You can read more about selected projects below.
See the winners from each region
Summary: A comprehensive, searchable guide to pre-K through 12 education in North Texas. Education choices are not as limited as they seem, whether within traditional public schools or beyond. This will help parents of all income levels understand what choices they have and empower them to choose what is best for their children.
Solution: We want to help parents of all income levels navigate the increasingly complex landscape of choosing a school and a school district, whether within traditional public school systems or beyond.
Summary: The Salt Lake Tribune will be the first US legacy newspaper to transition to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are also creating The Utah Journalism Foundation to provide long term support to local journalism. In doing so, we are creating a mechanism to sustain local journalism in perpetuity. Funding from GNI will accelerate our transition by building out a critical and innovative series of tools, policies and procedures. The goal of this project is to create a sustainable business model that can be adapted by other local legacy news organizations in small to mid sized markers.
Solution: Communities across the nation are losing their newspapers, tearing a hole their civic and democratic fabric. We are taking proactive, innovative and swift action to pioneer a new model so that this does not happen in Utah by becoming the first legacy newspaper in the US to transition to a nonprofit organization. By doing so, we are transforming The Salt Lake Tribune to a community institution owned, operated and working for the people of Utah. We are building this model with other communities in mind
Summary: Our goal is to address both the technical and economic challenges of unifying customer and user data for local publishers. The project aims to create a customer data management solution will combine the open source technologies Wordpress and the Apache Unomi CDP. Integrating CDP technology with the Wordpress publishing platform will enable scalable, cost-effective solutions for customer data management for publishers. The integrated Wordpress features and hooks to the CDP will be used to create valuable experiences for readers and new ways for publishers to reach specific audiences.
Solution: Local publishers have poorly integrated sources of customer and user data. Data is often hard to access from proprietary, legacy systems and disconnected databases. Unifying that data is expensive. These costs can compete with our investments in our core product, valued content. At the same time, publishers are challenged to rapidly grow digital subscription revenue through targeted and personalized reader experiences and innovative approaches to marketing. Better managed customer and user data is the key to that growth. This project will address that challenge by leveraging open source technology to build a CDP integration specifically design for local publishers.
Summary: Create a sustainable funding model for community-focused journalism outlets to amplify the needs and stories of historically underserved populations. Detour Detroit will test and quantify the success of hybrid journalist/engager roles to amplify readership, strengthen relationships with readers and grow revenue. We will track how stories, journalists and their engagement work in the community directly impact membership growth and retention. This creates a virtuous cycle of engagement and is a replicable model to reward attentive and responsive reporting. Google’s grant will fund the tech stack and tools to support this program.
Solution: For digital publications, pure audience growth is still the major benchmark of success. These metrics are unsustainable for journalists, toxic for our industry and disruptive for democracy.
We launched Detour because we believed in creating and nurturing direct relationships with readers as a revenue generator for local news producers limited by geography and scale. Now we’re asking, how can local journalists analyze which stories and acts of engagement grow loyalty and revenue? Our project attempts to value local journalists for the distinct and measurable impact they bring to the residents of our city, while giving them a direct financial stake and prioritizing the engagement efforts that are often treated as an afterthought.
Summary: The Medill Spiegel Research Center's Subscriber Engagement Index would be a new tool that would give local news organizations timely, unique, actionable insights about the online behaviors of their digital subscribers. The Index would show participating news organizations what digital subscribers are consuming on local news sites, and what's leading some to churn. This anonymized data would be shared and benchmarked in a wide array of categories so news outlets can measure their performance against their peers. Top-line findings would be shared with the journalism industry and thought leaders globally.
Solution: Many of today's reader metrics support advertising-driven business models. As the industry pivots to an increasing reliance on reader revenue, it's critical that news organizations understand subscriber behaviors. The absence of insight about subscriber behaviors creates an imperfect understanding of what those readers value and what they do. This lack of understanding is compounded by no mechanism to benchmark among peers. The Index will allow news outlets to prioritize strategies around reader retention and address behaviors causing churn.
Summary: We are developing a premium user experience for our most engaged, loyal subscribers that includes an ad-free news website, location-specific content recommendations, improved commenting and engagement tools and exclusive access to live events with our journalists.
Solution: Print circulation and revenue continue to decline a faster rate than digital revenue is growing, even with the addition of a robust digital subscription program. In order to increase our paid digital audience, we must quickly develop a first-class user experience that delivers news and information to our subscribers in creative and innovative ways.
Our solution is to build a premium subscription tier for our most engaged, loyal audiences that doubles down on local news discovery and community building and provides a VIP experience that goes beyond just unlimited online access to our great journalism.
Summary: We propose to build an open source toolkit for conversion and audience tracking that allows news organizations to quickly build an email subscriber base and an effective year-round membership program.
Solution: We aim to solve two problems: 1. Readers who have already subscribed or donated are annoyed by promotions. The Conversion Toolkit will suppress popups for readers who are current members or subscribers. 2. Small, local newsrooms don't have access to free or low-cost tools for evaluating the effectiveness of popup and email subject line messaging. We will create dashboards that enable news organizations to make data-driven, real-time decisions about what messages, tailored to local markets, most effectively convert readers to members and subscribers.
Summary: The GeoReporter project will develop a system to help editors easily source contributors of community content, make assignments and electronically pay those contributors in a streamlined digital experience, helping to cover more events in the local community.
Solution: The platform will enable us to broaden our coverage of community events, providing an easy way for trusted contributors to acquire, submit and be paid for their effort.
Summary: Our project addresses the three major issues facing local newsrooms looking to publish great audio: collection, distribution and monetization. Our toolkit includes a reporter-friendly interface that demystifies when, where and how to collect audio. It allows for quick uploading to a CMS, where the audio is tagged and conditioned to maximize discoverability and make embedding easy.
Solution: Knowing where and when to collect audio is a significant challenge for local newsrooms. Our project creates a front-end, reporter-facing interface that guides the user through the audio collection process and sends to a CMS. Most audio collected today does not include metadata, making it difficult to organize and distribute. Our system will allow for the easy addition of tags and will use semantic analysis to create rich metadata. Monetization is another significant challenge. Local businesses have a high barrier to entry for audio — our system pairs local ads with national programmatic and fills dynamically to meet impression counts.
Summary: The Interactive Story Wall is a way to visualize and explain data-driven stories on broadcast and digital platforms using a touch-screen that helps audiences better understand complex issues.
Solution: Civic health is strongly correlated with informed communities, but the rise of newspaper 'deserts' and loss of newspaper jobs puts many communities at 'information risk.' The Interactive Story Wall will enable local broadcasters to fill that void by making it possible to visualize important but complex stories.
Summary: We aim to expand data journalism from a primarily project-based and text-based activity to a mainstream, daily core of our newsrooms. To do so, we will pilot a systematic and holistic orientation around public data starting with the state of California. Evaluating the full public data ecosystem across the state will give our newsrooms unprecedented ability to extract the most important data points to deliver information in ways that can make a real difference in the lives of local consumers in hundreds of under-covered communities. We will bring the content to life on video through an innovative new “Data Studio and support the creation of hyperlocal digital news products, beginning in California.
Solution: With an increasing amount of publicly available data in our “smart cities,” it is the duty of local journalists to mine that data to discover, investigate and communicate relevant findings. Yet as the amount of public data explodes and becomes more accessible, local news deserts are becoming more prevalent. Through this project, and in service to democracy, we hope to discover and nurture a new business approach to covering community news at scale by identifying and reporting on important, need-to-know information hiding in public data.
Summary: The Membership for Broadcast Project will demonstrate that local broadcasters can develop their relationship with their digital audience into a sustainable business model that offsets expected declines in retransmission and advertising dollars. It’s a crucial lesson for local broadcasters who need to act now while they still have the resources, audience and clout to build new businesses. Local newspaper- companies waited too long and now face steep declines not only in revenue, but influence and impact. Broadcasters have time to build an audience-based revenue model through user funnels, which will allow them to maintain their leading role in local news.
Solution: Local broadcasters need to act now to secure our future as a critical news source in our communities. Retransmission fees have propped up our business model, but with forecasted declines ahead, and shifting ad dollars, we need to diversify revenue while we still have the opportunity.
With that in mind, we intend to build “Freemium-to-paid” membership programs for our local TV stations to diversify revenue and deepen audience engagement. Membership programs will move to the center of television’s strategy and become the driving force to build revenue and grow audiences everywhere.
Summary: #ThisIsTucson — a digital vertical of the Arizona Daily Star that serves more than 200,000 engaged local residents a month — will test, launch and manage a membership program to demonstrate a new, sustainable revenue stream for local news.
Solution: Local journalism needs a diversified revenue strategy to support the important work of covering our communities. With disruption in print and digital advertising and shrinking subscriptions, local news is caught in the middle of massive changes in the way people get and pay for information.
This grant will allow the Arizona Daily Star to test, launch and manage a local membership program for #ThisIsTucson, proving that a membership revenue model, more often seen in the non-profit news world, is viable in a midsize news market at a legacy newspaper.
Summary: BackerTap gives news organizations' most passionate readers the inside story by letting them sign up for exclusive documents, analysis, and other bonus materials that go beyond the headlines. It will also harness the enthusiasm for journalism that makes a difference, making it a more rewarding experience to donate, subscribe, or help share the stories that matter knowing that support is going directly towards original reporting.
Solution: Paywalls and advertising are generally a one-size-fits-all solution, when the reality is some readers won't be able to get enough of some stories — and are interested in ways to directly offer their support above and beyond a normal subscription or the ad revenue from a single pageview. Meanwhile, local news organizations often have the fewest resources to manage membership programs or invest in technology. BackerTap will make it easy and rewarding for both publications and readers to participate in topic specific membership programs.
Summary: Lookout Local Community Partners Plan employs state-of-the-art tech to connect two big dots in the development of local news media for the 2020s: reader revenue through membership and authentic digital and physical connection with those most involved in civic life. We empower a new level of community connection with our readers and create a flywheel effect, generating journalism-building dollars membership more quickly.
Solution: Membership sales are fundamental to new local news growth. Sold individually, they can work well with considerable effort on the part of the publisher. Augmenting single sales with group sales — through earned, ongoing relationships with civic groups -- will accelerate membership adoption and improve retention.
Summary: We’re going to simplify the development of podcast advertising creative assets to accelerate revenue growth in podcasting. We’ll do this by building a platform for purchasing podcast ad impressions and utilizing Google’s natural language processing & AI to automate the production of advertising creative for podcasts. Local, regional, and national businesses and their agencies will be able to easily create podcast specific creative and place targeted ad buys to local podcast audiences.
Solution: Most advertisers have radio creative though research shows that announcer read podcast ads are preferred by listeners and more effective for advertisers. At the same time, it's difficult for local advertisers to buy podcast advertising with scale. We'll build the tools to enable advertisers, business owners, and agencies, to easily upload copy points to instantly create an announcer read ad using natural language processing then place a targeted ad to reach podcast listeners in local and national podcasts.
Summary: WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, will embark on a project aimed at enabling public radio listeners to interact and transact with live local news content, using their voice, while driving their car. By partnering with emerging tech mobile developers, WBUR’s BizLab – an innovation lab developing and testing new models of support for public radio – will extend the listening experience of its existing WBUR Listen app to enable donations, transactions, and paid sponsorship within the context of listening to the station’s live broadcast.
Solution: The convergence of on-demand audio, voice-enabled speakers, and connected cars poses a significant disruption to the current public radio revenue models, which rely upon on-air pledge drives and corporate underwriting. WBUR will create voice-enabled mobile experiences that support transactions within a connected car, for the first time connecting the experience of listening in your car to interacting and transacting directly with your public radio station. To do this, WBUR will extend its mobile app to include prompts to take action related to the live audio content, laying the groundwork for frictionless donations and purchases as well as alternative sponsorship models.
Summary: The Voice Brief Tool streamlines the creation of a human curated and read news brief for use on audio assistants and streaming platforms.
Solution: Many medium to small newsrooms don’t have the staff, expertise or equipment to create and record news scripts that are suited for audio.
The Voice Brief Tool makes it easy to summarize stories for voice delivery and with built in recording capabilities a human read audio news brief can quickly be created and distributed.
Summary: NABUR will establish a responsible, curated neighborhood social media platform for communities served by Wick newspapers that encourages geographic connections through healthy discourse, cultivating relevant story ideas, and periodically bringing members together in real life (IRL) for events and discussions.
Through our Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.) and Midwestern (Fergus Falls, Minn.) pilot program bureaus, four journalism product managers will coordinate discussions, conduct experiments in news coverage, and organize events across six communities. The neighborhood platform will provide support for our journalism and community outreach efforts, not serve as a replacement for them.
Solution: As documented through recent research and news coverage - as well as our own pilot usability testing - social media platforms are generating more questions than answers, and the technology companies behind them have not been successful in generating trusting relationships.
By allowing trained journalists to lead the platform and technology decisions, we will ensure the values of trust, accountability, and accuracy are leading the conversation, and not being limited by the platform features.
Social media focuses purely on the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when” of journalism. We intend to demonstrate the value of addressing the “why” and the “how.”
Summary: Community News Connect is a collaborative local news platform that allows residents to partner with newsrooms to strengthen news coverage and amplify diverse voices. Community members would request coverage. Participating newsrooms would accept those requests, choosing to report on them individually or collaborate with other newsrooms. If newsrooms have interest in a topic but not the capacity to cover it, they could request micro-funding assistance from residents or community organizations. The platform would give local newsrooms a much-needed tool for tracking how well they are addressing the needs of segments of the community.
Solution: People of color and other underserved communities have long felt ignored or misportrayed by the media. The crisis in local news (as many newsrooms shut down or cut back staffing) has only exacerbated this problem. Dwindling resources and struggling business models have widened the gap between local news needs and media companies’ ability to address them. The project will give residents access to journalists and the reporting process, helping them drive coverage and building trust. It also will provide journalists with access to sources and ideas beyond their normal reach, thus improving their reporting and having more impact on issues.
Summary: Three nonprofit news organizations will join forces to use innovative technology and research techniques to discover the information needs of residents of the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, investigate their most pressing issues and deliver accountability journalism to the residents, as well as the broader public and policymakers across the nation.
News414 will draw upon the expertise of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, based at Marquette University with deep roots in the city’s underserved neighborhoods; Outlier Media, which aims to fill information gaps and increase accountability; and Wisconsin Watch, which holds power to account and distributes its content for free to hundreds of news organizations nationwide.
Solution: News414 seeks to engage residents of underserved Milwaukee neighborhoods in interactive public service journalism. It will equip residents with information they need to advocate for a better quality of life from their government and elected officials, and to better navigate the existing system. The information — both “news you can use” and in-depth pieces exploring the causes of problems plaguing these neighborhoods — will be texted directly to residents' cell phones for free. Subscribers to the texting service will become crucial sources of news tips and on-the-ground information. It is expected that easy access to relevant news through text messaging will create a better informed and more engaged community.
Summary: ITVS will help local public media stations use a new feedback platform to better serve, engage, and gain support from communities of color. Starting with five stations that are collaborating with ITVS on local content and civic participation strategies centered on criminal justice issues. ITVS will test and develop a model with the potential for national scale, serving public media’s diversity mission and local stations’ need to expand their revenue bases through increased membership.
Solution: Communities of color struggle to connect to local public media stations for varying reasons: lack of newsroom representation; lack of compelling, resonant, unbiased content; outsider engagement and marketing strategies. As a result, stations miss opportunities to serve viewers, win audiences, or/and earn financial support through new memberships.
Summary: La Noticia Audience Portal, is a pay-for-service model celebrations portal for user-generated content. This portal will allow Latino families to share with the broader community, beautiful pictures and descriptions of family life celebrations such as: Births, Baptism, Weddings, Quinceañeras and Community celebrations.
- Due to revenue decline, local newspapers no longer can give Latino families an opportunity to share family celebrations and community events for free.
- Our readers love to share family celebrations with the broader community. However, they now have fewer local options to do this.
Solution: La Noticia, with its avid, statewide audience of 30,000 unique readers a month is well-positioned to offer the solution to these families by providing them with La Noticia Audience Portal, where they can now continue to share their family celebrations for a small fee.
Summary: In the past few years, thousands of big cities, small towns and counties across America have started streaming video of public meetings online. But for the average citizen, keeping track of these meetings remains time-consuming and difficult. The Michigan Radio Public Meeting Tracker will make the content of these meetings easier to access. We’ll pull audio from meetings and make it available on podcast feeds and smart speakers, and we’ll use speech-to-text transcription to create a new database of meeting transcripts that newsrooms can use to track issues across communities.
Solution: According to Pew Research, 87% of local news consumers believe government issues are important or interesting. But only 30% say it’s easy to stay informed. As local newsrooms continue to face financial pressures, tracking local government issues will become even more of a challenge.
Our tool will automate the process of generating audio and transcripts from meeting videos posted online. Audiences will be able to access meeting content more conveniently, through podcast feeds and smart speakers. Journalists will have a more efficient way to track what happens in meetings, through a database of transcripts that’s constantly updated.
Summary: Using machine learning, this project will build a predictive analytics tool to help editors determine which of hundreds of staff-written stories are best suited for homepage positions on local news sites. Essentially, it will help us focus our homepage presentation based on the reading habits of our homepage users.
Solution: Homepage audiences have different reading patterns than search engine and social media audiences. The audience is comparatively small but it tends to be made up of local, loyal readers who make the best subscribers. We want to produce better sites for homepage readers by using more powerful tech for analysis and predictions.
Summary: Okayplayer began 20 years ago as a community of messageboard users bonding over similar interests in music, culture and politics. For two decades, we’ve been a publication serving the needs and interests of that community. Okayplayer's Investigative Reporting Platform is the next step in that tradition, a new way of funding quality reporting in places underserved by traditional media. Our model will empower local communities to direct their limited resources at journalism designed to shine light on opaque issues and bring accountability to local institutions.
Solution: Local newspapers across America are closing and rigorous local journalism is being replaced by streams of unverified information spread rapidly via social media. Using crowdfunding and digital tipping technology, Okayplayer's Investigative Reporting Platform will harness the power of online movements for justice and accountability into a funding model that will support a network of investigative journalists embedded in the communities that they cover. We see it as a model that other digital publications can adopt to connect paying audiences to content that matters to them.
Summary: We will design and build a technology platform, with related services, that effectively matches the right journalism-funding entity with the right news organization and project, and ensure successful program execution. Accelerate Local will become the premier source and enabler of journalism funding in North America, and possibly the world in the longer term. This will produce more and better local reporting, which in turn will enable local media organizations to better meet the information needs of the communities they serve.
Solution: Local news organization reporting resources are diminishing, rapidly in some markets. Yet, market research shows that consumers are highly interested and engaged in enterprise reporting, especially investigative reporting.
There is no common platform today that provides an easy-to-use, open process for news organizations to identify potential journalism funding organizations and efficiently apply for them, while also providing funders/grantors with direct, easy access to credentialed news organizations that are top candidates to execute on grants that they are funding.
The Solution: LMA’s News Grant Match-Making Platform, combining our listings databases, matching algorithms, workflow communication and advisory services.
Summary: The Lenfest Local Lab and The Philadelphia Inquirer will create partially-automated newsletters serving targeted Philadelphia-area neighborhoods. The newsletters will include a mix of editorial content, public data, and other automated information that will empower residents to stay informed and connect with their neighbors. The project will also explore new forms of community collaboration and revenue on a neighborhood level. Targeted community newsletters will give local businesses the opportunity to connect with more residents, and also amplify the services and information that community groups already offer on a hyperlocal level.
Solution: It’s challenging for residents to find reliable, consistent and trustworthy sources of community news and information outside of the noisy stream of social media. Our project will leverage automation and partnerships with existing hyperlocal publications and community groups to give neighborhood residents one place to find the information they care about. The newsletters will feature nearby things to do with family and friends, news stories and analysis about the area, local data that ties to neighborhood lifestyle, safety and health, as well as be a place for community members to ask questions and get honest answers about pressing issues.
Summary: Local news is broken. Crosstown is trying to fix it -- through data. We deliver community-level data to the people of Los Angeles who want to make their neighborhoods and city safer, healthier and more connected. Our GNI project will create a specialized news product -- such as a newsletter -- targeted to each neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Solution: We are trying to prove that there is a financially sustainable model for local news that helps residents stay more connected and engaged.
Summary: The Beacon, based in Kansas City, plans to launch in 2020, focusing on in-depth journalism in both Kansas and Missouri. It will be the first of its kind in the region to focus on a nonprofit news membership model outside of public radio/TV. This project will focus on the necessary steps to define and engage our unique audience for long-term sustainability, identify and build relationships with other civic engagement players, and create a forum for discussion of news and engagement with our audience.
Solution: Like local news ecosystems across the U.S., the Midwest has suffered massive cutbacks. Robust audience development around membership is sorely needed to ensure growth and sustainability.
One nonprofit model is a free core product subsidized by membership. Who are members? What makes them engaged? And what is the tipping point for them to pay for journalism?
In addition to identifying audiences and measuring their engagement, we will survey the civic engagement infrastructure in Kansas and Missouri. We will also research a “hub and spoke” model (central news organization based in a larger metro, with correspondents in more rural areas).
Summary: The Canadian Press aims to build out a Digital Data Desk to take advantage of two emerging trends in journalism: access to data and the use of AI to create content from that data. D3 will change CP in fundamental, necessary ways. It will update our culture to become fully digital. It will introduce new storytelling tools and a new breed of journalist. It will expand our market beyond the troubled traditional news industry. And it will allow us to operate at scale, generating bespoke solutions for customers that can range from hyperlocal to global.
Solution: The D3 will have a significant impact on the depth and breadth of local news generated in Canada. This comes at a time when smaller newsrooms -- short on both resources and time -- are struggling just to report the basics. A key focus of our data gathering will be public data sets from all levels of government as well as national-level NGOs, research institutes and academia. Using both human and algorithmic analysis, we will find patterns in those data sets, determine what news stories can be told about them, and generate content as a result.
Summary: Earbank News Exchange is helping news broadcasters and journalists to turn their audio assignments and archives into a new source of revenue.
Earbank is creating a marketplace for remote news audio assignments. We’re building tools to help journalists automatically organize their news audio clips and make them searchable on the Internet. We’re also making it possible for broadcasters to earn money by selling licenses for the news soundbites in their archives to audio buyers such as documentary producers, podcasters, and educational publishers.
Solution: Local news broadcasters record hours of valuable news clips and soundbites each day; however, not all of this content is saved for future use, because the broadcasters do not have the resources to archive their audio or the tools to monetize this content.
Earbank is developing a platform that makes it easier for broadcasters and journalists to archive their news audio clips and soundbites, make the content searchable on the Internet, and earn money by selling licenses for these clips to audio buyers such as documentary producers, podcasters, and educational publishers.
Summary: Village Media seeks to trigger a network effect within our community news platform by enabling and encouraging both Readers and Advertisers to connect on a one-to-one and a one-to-many basis with other members of their geographical community of interest.
These User connections enable Village Media to distinguish Readers and Advertisers by status, creating a community network in which members can wear many hats (i.e. concerned citizen, ambitious business owner, passionate volunteer, bargain hunter, local expert, etc.).
Solution: Today, most readers take a predominantly vertical path into and out of a local news site. They come in for a certain type of content, they consume that content, and they share it, comment on it, and/or leave. A tremendous amount of engagement takes place outside the local news sites, in particular, within social networks.
Village Media will create a platform for social interaction between community members within our local news environment. The presence of local businesses within that environment ensures that any growth in User activity will directly impact the local economic base.
Each type of interaction positively impacts revenue and engagement (traffic), and also makes the site more useful, relevant and interesting to the User.
Summary: Project Local Pulse is a digital-only product that combines quality local news with a community hub. In a world in which print news products are in decline, Torstar is looking to develop a sustainable new platform to maximize reader engagement through combining Torstar’s powerful news brands with deep community content. Critical to success is that this be truly local – strengthening the role of the local newspaper as the community's digital gathering place.
Solution: One of the unsolved problems of journalism in 2019 concerns providing quality service for local news in an economically sustainable and scalable manner. While larger, national news sources are seeing success with subscription models, the community news model remains challenging. Project Local Pulse aims to re-invigorate community discourse and showcase the full range of diverse voices and interests in each community. Project Local Pulse will be driven by local people, feature local content and help local businesses reach relevant audiences.