Over the past nine months, we’ve been working with LION Publishers and UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media to study the choices news startups face in establishing and growing their companies. Through our research with nearly 300 digital journalism entrepreneurs in North America, we’ve learned that many wrestle with the same questions, but lack reliable support systems to overcome these obstacles.
Even when emerging outlets are successful in building a quality product and community of readers, they often face a stumbling block when it comes to monetizing their journalism. In fact, just one in five of the news founders we surveyed consider their company to be financially sustainable. And for many digital news startups, financial footing remains precarious for years, as they delay long-term planning and view survival as success.
With this in mind, the Google News Initiative is launching a global program to help guide independent entrepreneurs as they build digital news startups. Today we’re opening applications for the GNI Startups Lab in North America, a six-month experience that will provide a group of news founders with coaching and capital to evolve their news products and accelerate their companies on the path to sustainability.
This program builds on our GNI Startups Lab in Brazil, which is currently contributing to the growth of 10 early stage digital news businesses through training, mentorship and peer learning. Next year, we will introduce global extensions of the program available to news entrepreneurs in Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Developed in partnership with LION, the GNI Startups Lab in North America will address the common questions news startups navigate when evolving their companies, as well as each participant’s individual path to growth. Founders will develop a deeper understanding of their audience, create short- and long-term strategy and budget plans, evolve team structures and strengthen business models, with the goal of building loyal readers and recurring revenue over time.
The lab will accept up to 12 news entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada, who have been producing original journalism for at least six months and want guidance on how to further develop their recently launched news product. Applicants should be focused on producing journalism for a geographically based community, or covering a single topic area. We are especially interested in entrepreneurs who have identified a need to better serve or elevate voices in underrepresented communities.
During the application process, news founders will be asked to outline the challenges they face, and what they believe is required in order for their company to become sustainable. This could range from establishing a new revenue stream, such as a membership model, to implementing a technology solution, like a content management system, to increase newsroom efficiency. Throughout the program, participants will receive coaching and financial support to make progress toward their specific goal and start on a path to long-term growth.
The GNI Startups Lab follows our eight-week bootcamp with LION, which recently guided 24 news entrepreneurs as they turned their starting idea into a publicly available news product, or evolved their existing offering. From an outlet seeking to provide deep investigative reporting on the criminal justice system, to a publication looking to unearth the inequities in the news industry itself, these projects shine a light on the range of possibilities for founders to meet the information needs of readers in new ways.
News entrepreneurs, who care deeply about serving their communities, play an important role in shaping the future of digital journalism. Alongside our global partners, we aim to share what is learned in the form of playbooks, tools and webinars, so those lessons can serve as a road map for future news founders to build sustainable businesses.
If you’re a news founder interested in the GNI Startups Lab in North America, please apply via the application form by January 21, 2021.