Center for Cooperative Media to conduct info needs assessments as part of 2021 Google GNI Innovation Challenge

Funding will enable research for NJ Civic Information Consortium grantees

Sarah Stonbely
Center for Cooperative Media
3 min readNov 16, 2021

Over the last several years, there’s been a lot of talk in the journalism industry about community information needs.

As news sources have downsized or shuttered and disinformation has spread, news organizations have sought to put a focus back on if — and how — they are giving communities the information they need to live daily life and participate in society.

This is especially critical for news startups; we think the most successful entrepreneurial ventures will be those squarely based on such local research.

That’s why the Center Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, soon entering its 10th year of serving and strengthening local journalism in New Jersey and beyond, is thrilled to have been chosen to conduct such research as part of the 2021 Google GNI Innovation Challenge.

Our project will assess the information needs of three communities in New Jersey served by new hyperlocal startups: Trenton, greater Blairstown, and Paterson. These startups were among the recipients of the first round of public funding from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind initiative to use state-level public funding to support and strengthen news and information.

The Center will work with the people behind these new startups to identify potential audiences, conduct focus groups and surveys, and incorporate the findings into their organizational planning and content. As research director at the Center, I will lead the effort.

I believe it’s an opportunity for these new outlets to understand their audiences at the outset, and apply that knowledge during the formative startup stage. I’m looking forward to working with the publishers and their communities, and we’re thankful for the support that Google is providing to do that.

Since 2012 the Center for Cooperative Media has been at the nexus of New Jersey’s news and information ecosystem, acting as a connector, facilitator, trainer, and mentor to many of the hundreds of outlets that produce local journalism for New Jersey. As such, the Center is uniquely qualified and placed to execute this project.

In addition to the learnings for the three outlets, the goal is to generalize the research process so that it can be used by other similarly placed outlets. “This project will give the new outlets a concrete understanding of their audience and connection to them from the beginning,” says Center director Stefanie Murray. “It will make their content more responsive and representative of their audiences’ needs. It will also help the outlets to develop deep and reciprocal relationships with their communities from the start, which should make sustainability more likely.”

The project is scheduled to begin later this month and end in November 2022.

Sarah Stonbely, PhD is the research director for the Center for Cooperative Media. Contact her at

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit



Sarah Stonbely
Center for Cooperative Media

Sarah Stonbely, PhD is the Research Director of the Center for Cooperative Media, in Montclair, NJ.