By Matt Kelly, chief content officer, Archant
Three things I’ve been asked since the company I work for, Archant, was awarded multi-million pound funding from Google’s Local News Experiment last week:
- What are you going to do with the money from Google?
- How come you got picked to get money from Google?
- Should you even be taking money from Google anyway?
First things first. We’re going to launch three brand-new news/information websites in communities identified by us as being currently underserved by local news.
These businesses will be wholly owned and operated by us, and Google will have absolutely no input on editorial decision-making. Google will, however, be providing great expertise, technology, and of course, the funding.
They are connecting us with other media groups in the Local News Experiment to help develop a model for sustainable local news. Together, we will be testing different content management systems, different website designs, different commercial models to help us find the right paths. We will be pulling levers and turning dials until the green light comes on.
Our hope is that these sites will become profitable before the end of the third year. We will be able to share our strategies for success (and also stuff we tried that didn’t work) with the wider industry.
Why us? Across our business, Archant has been committed to experimentation. From projects like our anti-Brexit paper The New European to Enjoy More, which aims to give the community greater involvement in defining and creating local content, we have demonstrated agility, creativity and dogged determination in challenging the received wisdom that the future for local is bleak.
There is no question that our business, and our industry generally, continues to face acute challenges, and that dealing with those challenges will sometimes be painful. But Project Neon is a huge vote of confidence in Archant’s ability to make a positive difference..
And on the last question: Like several other UK publishers, Archant has already received Google funding for projects under their Digital News Initiative.
Those projects — Local Recall and The Story Of… — will help answer questions we had like “how can we develop a world-class voice search for news?”, “how do we make our page archive more accessible?” and “how can we use our photo library in the genealogy space?”
Project Neon goes beyond those to ask questions about the future of our industry which desperately need answering. Working with Google gives us some necessary space and breathing room to help look for those answers — not to mention their experience, smarts and, yes, funding.
It also begins to answer a question which Google themselves have been asking: “How does the tech industry, which has contributed to many of the problems local news face, become involved in helping solve the problem?”
This is just one strand of a much bigger effort to make local news profitable digitally. It’s understandable that publishers in the past may have been complacent about the investment the massive transformation in our readers’ and advertisers’ behaviours in a digital digital would require. After all, the profits from print were considerable and flowed in consistently for generations.
In the past few years, we’ve been trying hard, in many ways, to catch up and make up for that complacency and we now have — in my opinion — the brightest and best bunch of journalists in Archant’s history, all determined to make a thriving success of the company.