Google News Initiative New North American Innovation Challenge is Underway

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The Google News Initiative second ever GNI Innovation Challenge in North America is underway. The goal of this year’s challenge is to identify local media projects that will elevate underrepresented audiences and promote diversity, equity and inclusion within their journalism.

The first North American GNI Innovation Challenge which launched in 2019 resulted in $5.8 million in funding offered for 34 projects selected from 269 applications.

Google Innovation Challenges Manager Benjamin Shaw talks about this latest challenge

Q: The theme of the North American GNI Innovation Challenge is “Sustainability Through Diversity.” How was that selected?

A: Over the past two years the Google News Initiative has launched several Innovation Challenges around the world, each aimed at stimulating new thinking in the digital news-ecosystem. In the first North America Challenge, we focused squarely on supporting new thinking around driving revenue and generating audience at the local level. After a rigorous review, we selected 34 projects in 17 states and provinces to receive funding amounting to a total of $5.8 million.

For this challenge, we put a concerted focus on diversity and sustainability of local news publishers who serve underrepresented audiences. We understand the role that diverse and ethnic media play in their communities. They are critical news sources for underrepresented groups, they fill coverage gaps for stories that don’t rise to mainstream media.

Q: How can organizations apply?

A: Head online to our Website at:  https://g.co/newsinnovation. Keep in mind that we close the application window on May 12 at 11:59 p.m. PST.

Q: Could you highlight some of the results from the first North American GNI Innovation Challenge?

A: When we review projects, our team assesses potential impact, feasibility, innovation and inspiration.  We were looking for applicants focused on generating revenue and/or increasing audience engagement for local news. The 34 successful projects clearly answered this call.

For example:

  • Lookout Local is a startup testing a new approach to local news discovery in Santa Cruz, California;
  • Graham Media Group is building a program to diversity broadcast revenues for news stations in Detroit;
  • OkayPlayer in Brooklyn, New York is creating an investigating reporting platform to increase engagement of its African American audience;
  • La Noticia in Charlotte, North Carolina is creating an open-source platform for its Latino audience to publish their own family notices.

You can read all about all the selected at https://newsinitiative.withgoogle.com/innovation-challenges/funding/north-america/.

Q: What kind of response are you expecting for this challenge?

A: We are very proud that there was this high a level of engagement from organizations that had new ideas around driving revenue or creating audience engagement for local media. We expect this round to be even stronger, because these are developing and timely issues. Even though this might mean tougher competition, spending time with your teams thinking about new ideas and ways to innovate is never wasted. And who knows? You may even get selected for a project worth up to $300,000.

Q: What criteria is being used to evaluate projects?

A: Projects will be evaluated against five main criteria: diversity; equity and inclusion (DEI); impact on the news ecosystem; innovation; and feasibility and inspiration. To learn more about this and other terms and conditions, we encourage people to email nagnichallenge@google.com or to visit our website

Initial selection of projects is done by a Project Team, composed of a select team of Google staff who have knowledge and/or experience in digital publishing and journalism. We review all applications for eligibility, innovation and impact. We then compose a shortlist, conduct interviews with applicants and make recommendations to the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Jury.

Q: How much are the applicants vying for?

A:  We strongly believe that local media still requires innovation to become sustainable and that is why we are willing to back projects all the way up to $300,000 and will finance up to 70%  of the total project cost. Special discretion on the total project cap may be considered by the Jury depending on the scale and impact of a very large collaborative effort.

Q: How many projects are you hoping to select? Or is there a number in mind?

A: We aren’t directly focused on the top line numbers. Of course, we would like to energize U.S. and Canadian publishers to participate. However, what we really want is to surface all the great ideas around “Sustainability Through Diversity” and fund as many of the great ones as possible.

Q: Why is GNI looking for these media innovations?

A: Because it’s the right thing to do. Our CEO Sundar Pichai has said, “Google cares deeply about journalism. We believe in spreading knowledge to make life better for everyone. It’s at the heart of Google’s mission. It’s the mission of publishers and journalists.” Financial stability requires innovation and new technology presents opportunities. We are way past the days where media companies and the tech platforms can go it alone. We are partnering with innovators to build a better future for news.

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