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March 26, 2019, 11:25 a.m.
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LINK: www.axios.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   March 26, 2019

Google: “Facebook, we see your local news boot camp and conference, and we raise you to funding the creation of local news sites.”

The tech giants’ dueling $300 million commitments to news (especially local news) mean they’re following similar signals to boost the industry they grabbed the advertising dollars from.

Google today announced a new partnership with McClatchy to fund the creation of three local digital-only, multi-platform publications as part of its new Local Experiments Project. (Here’s a refresher on initiatives using the word local in their name, if that sounds like a mouthful.)

Axios’ Sara Fischer had the details first (our link added):

Google is launching the Local Experiments Project, an effort to fund dozens of new local news websites around the country and eventually around the world. The tech giant says it will have no editorial control over the sites, which will be built by partners it selects with local news expertise.

Why it matters: Big tech companies like Google and Facebook are often blamed for the demise of the local news business model. Now, both are trying to fix the broken local news ecosystem for the sake of their audiences, which they say crave more local news.

The McClatchy partnership is the first experiment, to roll out over the next three years. Google will stay hands-off editorially but put in “significant” investment and add tech expertise, according to Google’s vice president of news Richard Gingras: “We will be spending many millions of dollars on this overall.” McClatchy has an existing presence in 30 markets and will focus this effort on cities with less than half a million people, CEO Craig Forman told Axios.

“While we don’t know what this will look like at the end of three years, we share a vision for the value and potential impact this collaborative work will have on the local media industry,” Forman wrote in a Google post announcing the work, which is part of McClatchy’s new Compass Experiment. (Many experiments in local news indeed.) Google’s $300 million earmarked for media’s transition to digital is one year into its stated three-year commitment. It’s unclear whether these site will be in new or existing markets for McClatchy.

Local doesn’t scale, but there is a template for how to build a successful local news outlet — and significant funding at the beginning definitely helps. Gingras cited The Texas Tribune (the poster child for venture philanthropy in local news), Mediapart in France, and local-advertising-reliant Village Media in Canada as “examples of local news businesses that can thrive with the right strategies and investments,” according to Fischer.

It’s a pretty big step for one of the tech behemoths to write checks specifically for creating new news outlets. The Local Experiments Project seems parallel but distinct from Facebook and Google’s trainings on subscription/retention revenue, subsidies for specific platform pilots that don’t really pan out, or launching tech-heavy partnerships that look like an olive branch but really just add to the already hefty workload. (I’m referring in that last bit to Subscribe with Google, which McClatchy worked with as the sole local publisher.)

Again: Apple, where you at?

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