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Sept. 19, 2019, 11:41 a.m.
Business Models
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   September 19, 2019

The Compass Experiment, Project Neon: Google has now committed “millions” of dollars/pounds in support of the creation of three local news sites in two different countries by major media companies (that already have local news sites).

Matt Kelly, chief content officer for UK media publishing company Archant, wrote on Google’s blog Thursday morning:

A sustainable digital model for local news: That’s the aim of a three-year partnership between Google and U.K. publisher Archant. Project Neon will rethink local news from every perspective, from storytelling to layout, from business models to website design….

Project Neon will target up to three U.K. communities, identified as being currently underserved by local news. The project will build new all-digital news platforms for those communities, created in a concerted effort to reverse the commercial challenges local news publishers have faced in the past decade.

In March, McClatchy’s CEO and president Craig Forman similarly wrote:

At this important time for local news, McClatchy is expanding its partnership with Google to explore and experiment with new sustainable business models for authoritative news and essential information to communities.

Today, we’re introducing The Compass Experiment, which will provide local news coverage to three small to mid-sized U.S. communities that don’t have access to significant local sources of news and information.

In the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, citing Google’s re-prioritizing original reporting in an algorithm change and Facebook’s content licensing with its news tab, Lukas Alpert reported:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. are making concessions long sought by news publishers whose business has been hurt by the platforms’ dominance, moves that some in the media industry see as an effort to pre-empt potential regulatory backlash….

Top state law-enforcement officials from across the country last week launched antitrust investigations into Facebook and Google, further pressuring tech giants already under federal scrutiny over whether their online dominance stifles competition.

(Digiday has a good roundup of the European regulators’ tangoes with the tech platforms from July.)

Those “commercial challenges [that] local news publishers have faced in the past decade” are, in a nutshell, Facebook and Google. The digital advertising has decimated the foundation of the publishers’ business, as regular Nieman Lab readers are well aware, and these millions of money may be too little, too late. McClatchy is at risk of delisting off the stock exchange with a less than $15 million market value and Archant, one of Britain’s largest regional newspaper groups, is reportedly worth between £40 million (US $49.9 million) and £60 million (US $74.9 million) as its legacy owner weighs a sale. Investments in local journalism are basically always welcome. But can three built-from-scratch local news sites provide a lighthouse for the local media companies? Can giving funding to media companies really keep regulators at bay?

In both operations, the media companies have full editorial control and cite the “support and expertise” of Google’s tech teams as another benefit, though it’s unclear what that exactly looks like. Mandy Jenkins is now leading McClatchy’s initiative to develop an outlet in Youngstown, Ohio post-Vindicator. That site, Mahoning Matters, will be using the Canadian company Village Media’s platform and is set to launch “soon,” according to a Medium post the operation published Thursday on the site’s development thus far. (A post on the local hires to staff Mahoning Matters says “late September.”)

As McClatchy UX strategist Abby Reimer wrote, “In the journalism world, we spend a lot of time thinking (or fretting!) over the future of media. What is and isn’t journalism? What’s essential and what can be released to history?”

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