Meet the 24 news projects getting intensive coaching from our inaugural Google News Initiative Startups Lab Boot Camp

Anika Anand
LION Publishers
Published in
7 min readSep 9, 2020

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From top left: Aala Abdullahi, Adam Chen, Annelise Pierce, Aysha Mahmood, Bobby Burns, Christa Shavers, Bria Felicien, Camille Padilla Dalmau, Filiberto Nolasco Gomez, Jennifer Miller, Lynzie DeVeres Gaither, Jessika Davidson, Charles Miles, Josh Mariscal, Pete Ramirez, Karen Williams, Wynter Ogele, Leah Marché, Luke Baumgarten, Minda Honey, Nancy Flores, Sonya Ross, Stacy Feldman, Travers Johnson, and Susana Mas.

Today we’re announcing our inaugural Google News Initiative Startups Lab Boot Camp cohort: 24 projects — some led by individuals, some by small teams — selected from 259 applications that we received over a six-week period. During that time, more than 800 people attended information sessions and events about the boot camp, applied to the boot camp or signed up to join our entrepreneurial journalism community (more details on that soon!)

I say all that to underscore what we believe is a growing need for an ecosystem of support and opportunities for aspiring news entrepreneurs. I’m grateful that we are working with Phillip Smith and the Google News Initiative to begin to give these folks the coaching they need to serve information needs that aren’t currently being met.

So without further ado, meet the 24 teams of aspiring founders who will undertake an intensive eight-week journalism entrepreneurship bootcamp beginning this month.

MEET OUR STARTUPS LAB BOOT CAMP COHORT

Aala Abdullahi
Dot Diaspora: A news outlet and crowdfunding hybrid that aims to centralize, engage, direct and mobilize the financial power of the African diaspora.
(New York, NY/Toronto, Ontario)

Adam Chen
Talk Media: Creating interactive and experimental local journalism that engages audiences, sparking curiosity and new relationships through shared experiences.
(Toronto, Ontario)

Annelise Pierce
Shasta Scout: An independent news organization focusing on Shasta County’s complex stories and diverse populations.
(Redding, CA)

Aysha Mahmood
More Muslims in Politics: Amplify Muslim voice in a news cycle that has historically either misrepresented Muslims or has reported on them with strong Islamophobic bias.
(Hartford, CT)

Bobby Burns and Christa Shavers
The Informed Village: Building a black-led 21st century news organization that is committed to truth telling and using the power of storytelling to influence positive change.
(Evanston, IL)

Bria Felicien
The Black Sportswoman: Tells the stories of Black women athletes in sports history and highlights those often written out of mainstream coverage.
(East Point, GA)

Camille Padilla Dalmau
9 Millones: Creates data-driven, solution-based stories for the nine million Puerto Ricans across the globe.
(San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez
Plexippus: Investigative journalism on the Carceral State.
(Minneapolis, MN)

Jennifer Miller and Lynzie DeVeres Gaither
LA Unpacked: In addition to motivating people to vote and get involved, we will explain systemic racism in Los Angeles and how it affects Black people.
(Los Angeles, CA)

Jessika Davidson and Charles Miles
Bayou City BLK: Dedicated to telling stories and convening discussions around Black Houston’s past, present and future, exploring the tapestry of cultures that make up the bayou city’s unique identity.
(Houston, TX)

Josh Mariscal and Pete Ramirez
Frontera Free Press: An independent digital media company that strives to enlighten our audience through investigative, informative journalism that will highlight the culture and politics of the Rio Grande Valley and communities all along the United States-Mexico border.
(Edinburg/Austin, TX)

Karen Williams and Wynter Ogele
The Daily 219: A news outreach program for seniors and those without technology to access local news and community information.
(Gary, IN)

Leah Marché
BELLbulletin: Heralds truth in the Grand Canyon State with a high-caliber commitment to Blackness, Humanity and Culture.
(Phoenix, AZ)

Luke Baumgarten
RANGE: A media project covering our political and cultural landscape while working to imagine and then build a significantly better world.
(Spokane, WA)

Minda Honey
TAUNT: A local, indie outlet not filtered through the white male gaze.
(Louisville, KY)

Nancy Flores
(Name forthcoming): A Latino digital news outlet at the intersection of culture and community that will shine a light on the untold stories that illuminate the resilience it takes to be Latino in Austin.
(Austin, TX)

Sonya Ross
Black Women Unmuted: A digital content generator that provides coverage of Black women’s political, civic and social engagement in the United States.
(Washington, D.C.)

Stacy Feldman
Boulder Local: A modern, independent local news and engagement initiative to serve the entire community of Boulder.
(Boulder, CO)

Susana Mas
(Name forthcoming): A weekly newsletter focused on fact-checking and digital literacy tips — especially around COVID-19 — to serve primarily immigrants and newcomers published in English, French and Spanish.(Ottawa, Ontario)

Travers Johnson
Queerency: A new digital media company that tells the stories of how queer people mind our business and make our money.
(Washington, D.C.)

Additionally, the following boot camp participants gave us permission to share their project ideas:

HeyReprotech: A weekly newsletter dedicated to reporting and analyzing developments in reproductive technologies, including their societal impacts.

The Objective: A publication meant to confront the inequities in journalism that, since the 1950s, have been rooted in “objectivity” and continue today.

Rounding out our 24 teams are two more boot camp participants who are remaining in stealth mode for now.

OF THE 24 PROJECTS…

  • 15 are focused on serving geographically local communities and 9 are focused on single-subject/niche communities.
  • Of those 15 local news projects, 4 are focused on state or regional coverage, 5 are focused on urban communities and 6 are focused on rural communities.
  • 17 are led by people of color.
  • 8 of the projects are being launched by entrepreneurs who don’t come from formal journalism backgrounds.
  • Half of the projects have either built a prototype, are in pre-launch or public beta or have launched. The other half either haven’t built anything yet, have made some mocks/renderings or have some ideas/sketches.
  • 4 are Canada-based; 20 are U.S.-based (including 1 who is also based in Puerto Rico.)

HOW WE SELECTED THE APPLICANTS

To decide on just 24 projects to invite to this round was a uniquely challenging task because the quality of applications overall was very high. More than 70 percent met our core eligibility criteria for the program: the applicants are based in the U.S. or Canada; the project is primarily a journalism effort; the focus is local news or single-subject coverage.

We also received quite a few applications from projects that were too developed for this boot camp to be useful to them. But we are looking forward to announcing (soon!) phase two of our GNI Startups Lab that will be able to help those founders who are further along in their startup journey.

Eligible applications were first reviewed and ranked by a small team from LION Publishers and Google News Initiative, and 60 were advanced to a review panel, which included representatives from Color Farm Media, Google News Initiative, LION Publishers, Maynard Institute and PressOn. The judges had the (very difficult) task of selecting just 30 projects to advance to the final review stage. From there, the original small team from LION and GNI, with boot camp director Phillip Smith’s input, selected the final 24.

MORE RESOURCES FOR ASPIRING NEWS ENTREPRENEURS

I can’t emphasize this enough: There were too many good projects to choose from. By good, I mean, there were too many projects that should exist in the world, that could provide huge value to the communities they want to serve, and that could help fill major information gaps for people who need it most.

We want to thank every person who took the time to apply and share their story with us. Our ambition is that — over time — we’ll be able to support every single applicant, either through the boot camp or additional support from the GNI Startups Lab and LION Publishers.

In the meantime, here are some resources we can offer aspiring news entrepreneurs:

  • Sign up for LION’s weekly newsletter and follow LION Publishers on Twitter to learn more about news and opportunities for independent news publishers
  • Apply for a LION membership starting at only $150/year if you’ve already launched your business, or an aspiring entrepreneur membership for $50/year if you haven’t yet launched.
  • Sign up to join our Entrepreneurial Journalism Community, launching this fall

Additionally, we encourage aspiring news entrepreneurs to check out these resources from our industry colleagues:

  • If you want to pursue another boot camp starting soon, apply to the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program, launched by Newmark J-School, by September 15. The cost of the program is $4,000 and LION is providing one fully-paid scholarship for an accepted participant. Apply here.
  • If you’re interested in launching a nonprofit news site, check out the Institute for Nonprofit News’ Springboard program, INN’s Startup Guide, and INN’s Info Sessions for Startups. Plus, here’s a playbook for launching a local nonprofit news outlet from The Shorenstein Center and the News Revenue Hub.
  • If you want to attend a shorter training intensive, keep an eye on when AAJA Catalyst announces its next program.
  • If you’re based in Canada, check out Indiegraf and its training program and services.

ABOUT THE GNI STARTUPS LAB

In July 2020, the Google News Initiative partnered with LION Publishers to launch the GNI Startups Lab, an effort that helps aspiring news entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada prove there is a need and audience for their idea, build their news product and set their business on the path to sustainability. Phase one of the Startups Lab focuses on an eight-week journalism entrepreneurship boot camp. Learn more about the vision for the bootcamp; what makes for a great application; and the curriculum over the eight weeks. We’ll be announcing more details about phase two of the Startups Lab soon.

A big thanks to my colleagues Phillip Smith, the director of the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp, and Conor Crowley of the Google News Initiative, for their tireless work in getting this inaugural class off the ground.

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