UNC Hussman, CISLM to partner with Google News Initiative on research project for local news startups

The UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM) is partnering with the Google News Initiative, LION Publishers and Doug Smith to create Project Oasis – a dynamic new endeavor to identify, share and implement the best practices that help local digital news models get started and succeed.

The Google News Initiative announced the project in a blog post today from UNC CISLM Director Susan Leath

The goal of Project Oasis is to create and sustain local news startups to help combat the well-documented news deserts that have emerged around the nation.

“UNC Hussman is focused on inventing the future of journalism and media,” said Susan King, dean of the school. “Knight Chair Penny Abernathy’s research defines the dynamics, trends and causes of our industry’s challenges. Project Oasis focuses on studying what is emerging in communities hard hit by the changes.”

Project Oasis begins with research and interviews with independent digital local news startups in the U.S. and Canada. The research seeks to understand the challenges digital news startups face, identify the key practices that helped them succeed, and share findings widely to encourage ongoing entrepreneurship in local news.

Louise Spieler, UNC Hussman senior associate dean for strategy and administration, said the project builds on the school’s work on the UNC-Knight Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative, a yearlong program designed to help media organizations create sustainable solutions for the digital age. “For three years, we have had a close view to the business challenges of our Table Stakes partners and seen what they’ve been able to learn and apply in order to produce impressive results.”

The UNC CISLM is a proud partner in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative. The yearlong program helps media organizations identify challenges and opportunities, as well as create sustainable solutions to survive and thrive in the digital age.

UNC CISLM will create a database of local digital native news organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Then, through survey data, interviews and other empirical evidence, the project aims to identify the business strategies that have helped digitally focused, local news organizations find success and remain sustainable. Those insights will be used to create resources for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs in local news, from how to launch a local news business in different areas of the country, to a playbook of scalable best practices for managers.

“We know that local digital news startups can thrive in the marketplace. They prove that local news can be good business,” said Susan Leath, a veteran media executive and director of UNC CISLM. “We’re excited about the future of local news and proud to be working with partners like Google and LION, who share our commitment to quality journalism that empowers citizens and strengthens our democracy.”

UNC CISLM is funded by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the UNC Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost to support established and emerging local news organizations through applied research on economic sustainability and entrepreneurship as well as innovative news and digital product solutions.

Launched in 2018, The Google News Initiative is a global effort to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age. In partnership with news publishers around the world, the GNI aims to foster new thinking in online journalism and aid the development of new publishing business models. In turn, the GNI is committed to sharing knowledge generated from its work with the wider industry.