Our 24 boot camp graduates have big ambitions — here’s how you can help

Lisa Heyamoto
Dec 17, 2020 · 16 min read
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

We introduced the Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp in July to help two dozen journalism entrepreneurs develop their ideas for independent news organizations. Now, we are thrilled to announce that all 24 are ready to launch.

The remarkable founders behind these projects undertook an intense, eight-week boot camp to immerse themselves in the wild and worthy world of media entrepreneurship. Under the guidance of Boot Camp Director Phillip Smith, they put in long hours (often on top of day jobs) to research their target audiences, model out potential revenue and set goals around early growth. They tested ideas, embraced change, gained insight and made pivots — all with the goal of serving their audiences with impactful journalism.

“We embraced the idea early on that we were going to encourage participants to accomplish more than they believed was possible, and faster than they believed it could be done,” Smith said. “It was a big risk and, given where each of the projects is today, I believe it was one of the best decisions we could have made.”

Founders left the bootcamp with a clearer path forward, a renewed sense of possibility and access to apply for GNI funding to advance the next steps in their entrepreneurial journey. We’ll announce plans for future boot camps next year.

“The bold offerings that developed during the GNI Startups Boot Camp reinforce the bright possibilities for news entrepreneurs to engage communities and build business models in new ways,” said Ben Monnie, Google’s director of global partnerships solutions for news. “I look forward to following how the participants continue to meet unmet information needs and contribute to building a more sustainable future for digital journalism.”

Please join us in celebrating (and supporting!) the graduates of the inaugural GNI Startups Boot Camp. We’re incredibly inspired by their work.

They are:

Dot Diaspora

Dot Diaspora is a newsletter and crowdfunding hybrid that centralizes and mobilizes the spending power of the African diaspora.

Founder: Aala Abdullahi (New York, New York)

Immediate next steps: My priority for the next few weeks is hitting 1,000 subscribers for the ‘Here and There: Nigeria’ newsletter. I’m also seeking funding for my first long-form storytelling project, alongside a global media partner.

How to help: If you work in a newsroom interested in reaching the Nigerian or African diaspora audience, I’d love to collaborate. Please shoot me an email at hello@dotdiaspora.com. If you’re a member of the Nigerian diaspora, or are generally interested in learning about what the biggest problems are in Nigeria and who’s doing what to solve them, please check out and subscribe to ‘Here and There: Nigeria’.

Talk Media

Creating interactive and experimental local journalism that engages audiences, sparking curiosity and new relationships through shared experiences.

Founder: Adam Chen (Toronto, Ontario)

Immediate next steps: Our next step is to put on a larger and more ambitious version of our first online, live journalism performance pilot, Shiny Talking People. We will ramp up the number of attendees to 200, increase the number of performances to at least four and bring on two keystone sponsors.

How to help: If you’re a journalist in Toronto who wants to tell local stories in challenging and innovative ways, we’d love to chat. If you know sponsors who would be interested in putting $2,000 toward a live journalism performance, with a chance to turn your brand story into an interesting piece of sponsored content live storytelling, you can reach me at adam@talkmedia.ca.

HeyReprotech

Weekly reporting on what’s really happening inside assisted reproduction.

Founders: Alison Motluk and Eva Voinigescu (Toronto, Ontario)

Immediate next steps: We have two goals for the next six months: significantly grow our subscriber list, through both paid and direct efforts, and secure funding from major donors who are personally connected to this field in order to bridge us through to sustainability.

How to help: Please sign up and spread the word. Donors, surrogates, parents, professionals or just ordinary folks who are interested in questions like “Is it okay to use your dead son’s sperm to create a grandchild?” — this is for you.

Shasta Scout

An independent news organization focusing on Shasta County’s complex stories and diverse populations. We offer local, fact-based, investigative reporting with regional and national interest points, including rural paramilitary groups, Bethel Church (an influential part of the religious right both nationally and internationally) and law enforcement accountability.

Founder: Annelise Pierce (Redding, California)

Immediate next steps: We are: seeking grant funding to pay for a full year of coverage of local issues related to Shasta County’s dense and complex indigenous populations; developing long term investigative stories that will use data to tell specific stories that shed light on larger issues within Shasta County; building a robust email subscriber list and continuing website development.

How to help: Become a founding individual or organization by funding coverage of law enforcement accountability, the religious right and rural paramilitary groups in Shasta County with the aim of informing and influencing regional and national coverage of these issues. We are looking for five founding funders/organizations willing to invest $5,000 each.

More Muslims in Politics

Too often, Muslims aren’t given a voice in politics. It’s time we change that. More Muslims in Politics aims to be an online hub filled with political news, tools and resources that will give Muslims the knowledge, community and support needed to raise their voice, run for office, and ultimately increase Muslim representation in local, state, regional and national government.

Founder: Aysha Mahmood (Hartford, Connecticut)

Immediate next steps: I’m currently reaching out to Muslim politicians to interview them for the More Muslims in Politics website. With these profiles, my hope is to inspire Muslim youth to run for office and show them that using your voice is powerful. I’m also creating a youth-tailored “How to run” resource guide and website, with the aim to go live early next year.

How to help: Whether you’re Muslim or an active ally, I’d love your help spreading the word! Secondly, if you identify as Muslim and have any digital, tech or design skills, please reach out at Moremuslimsinpolitics@gmail.com, as I’m looking for support building the website! And lastly, More Muslims in Politics is all about community. If you’re a Muslim interested in politics, please reach out, as I’d love to be connected to you!

Distel News

Distel News will provide a network of local news coverage for Berks County, Pennsylvania. We will focus in-depth on each of the 18 school districts, one region at a time.

Founders: Two local journalists with decades of experience in the area.

Immediate next steps: We are in the process of testing community interest and support for this idea before leaving our current jobs to work on the idea full-time. Once we reach 1,000 signups, we plan to look for startup funding from grants and community members to begin producing original reporting for a newsletter and website.

How to help: As we do the testing to learn if there is enough community interest to make this idea financially sustainable, we could use help with any opportunities for grants or startup funding for the next stage of building Distel News.

The Informed Village

A news product to help people who feel morally obligated to vote feel more informed when they do — all in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

Founders: Bobby Burns and Christa Shavers (Evanston, Illinois)

Immediate next steps: Our next step is to continue coverage of Evanston’s 2021 municipal election by developing our issue explainers, which explore the evolution, background and details of hot button issues. We’re also developing our weekly 5–15 minute audio updates and detailing the various campaigns around Evanston. After launching our landing page, we ended the first week with 100 organic subscribers. The plan is to add 900 subscribers in the next three months by releasing useful content and securing an advertising budget.

How to help: Subscribe or make a one-time donation.

The Black Sportswoman

The Black Sportswoman provides quality storytelling centering on Black women athletes and their contribution to sports.

Founder: Bria Felicien (East Point, Georgia)

Immediate next steps: The Black Sportswoman newsletter returned Dec. 5. with an interview with legendary goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Our database of Black sportswomen and their accomplishments launches in early 2021. Our goal is to grow our newsletter list to 1,000 subscribers, and we’re currently using direct outreach, social media marketing and good old word-of-mouth to build awareness and our subscriber base.

How to help: Share www.blacksportswoman.com with someone who loves sports.

9 Millones

9 Millones creates solutions-based, data-driven stories connecting the nine million Puerto Ricans around the world

Founder: Camille Padilla Dalmau (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Immediate next steps: I received a $20,000 grant from pre18, a local accelerator in Puerto Rico, and I’m using that money to hire storytellers and develop a membership platform.

How to help: I would love to chat with people who have experience building (remote) teams or who are also doing data-driven and solutions journalism.

Bayou City BLK

Bayou City BLK is a podcast that researches and reveals Houston’s past, present and future.

Founders: Charles Miles and Jessika Davidson (Houston, Texas)

Immediate next steps: Our immediate goal is to have 500 listeners signed up by the time we launch (in January 2021) our first series of episodes based on Houston’s ward system.

How to help: Become one of Bayou City BLK’s Impact Partners by investing $2,500 a month. Your support would help us grow our platform over the next two years to include written and video content by journalists from marginalized communities, giving them the agency to explore the city and tell impactful stories.

The Incarcerated

The Incarcerated provides Minnesotans with rigorous, in-depth news and investigative journalism about jails, prison and the profit made in between. The Incarcerated is led by Filiberto Nolasco Gomez, a formerly incarcerated investigative journalist based in Minneapolis.

Founder: Filiberto Nolasco Gomez (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Immediate next steps: Our immediate goal is to sign up 300 people in the next several months. At 300 subscribers, we will launch the first newsletter.

How to help: Are you surprised to learn that Minnesota has the highest incarceration rates for Native Americans in the U.S.? Or that the Minnesotan prison population is majority people of color? Did you know that inmates make $.25 an hour to build common, everyday items like chairs for libraries? Sign up for our 7-part email series on Prison Labor in Minnesota.

The Objective

Reporting, first-person commentary and reported essays on how journalism has misrepresented or excluded specific communities in coverage, as well as how newsrooms have treated staff from those communities.

Founders: Gabe Schneider (Los Angeles, California) and Marlee Baldridge (Ames, Iowa)

Immediate next steps: Our next big milestone is 3,000 email subscribers. We’re currently close to 2,000 and aim to launch a membership program once we hit that mark. With membership support, we aim to pay our writers and editors, all of whom currently work on a volunteer basis.

How to help: We are currently getting ready to accept charitable contributions through a fiscal sponsor, so if you align with our mission and are interested, the best thing you can do right now is subscribe to our newsletter. If you would like to discuss a major gift, please contact us at questions@objectivejournalism.org.

Unpacked LA

Unpacked LA is a podcast that explores Los Angeles through a conversation about our Black experiences.

Founders: Jennifer Miller and Lynzie DeVeres Gaither (Los Angeles, California)

Immediate next steps: Our goal is to have 500 website subscribers by the time we launch at the end of the month. We have been spreading the word on social media and would love it if you could also share it as well.

How to help: We need help spreading the word. Please share our website on social media and with your friends! Additionally, we would like to obtain sponsorships to hire a freelancer and financially support the vision for this podcast, which we will eventually turn into an event space within the next two years. Please feel free to email us at unpackedla@unpackedla.com

Frontera Free Press

Frontera Free Press is an email newsletter focused on providing independent, unbiased news that highlights the people, places and events that bring pride to the Rio Grande Valley.

Founders: Joshua Mariscal (Edinburg, Texas) and Pete Ramirez (Austin, Texas)

Immediate next steps: We launched our landing page October 30, published our first email newsletter on November 20 and we’ve now accumulated 327 subscribers, with our second newsletter set to publish in the next few weeks. Our quick growth tells us that there is a need for our product, but to become sustainable we need to keep the momentum going. We’ve set a goal of reaching 500 subscribers by January 1. We also plan to offer a Founding/Sustaining Membership to our readers at $10/month to help us continue to bring independent, local news about the Rio Grande Valley to your inbox.

How to help:

1) Subscribe to our email newsletter

2) Share our page on social media!

3) Check out the first edition of our newsletter here.

4) Once launched, sign up to become a Founding/Sustaining Member

5) Reach out to us with questions, advice, or financial donations by emailing us at fronterafreepress@gmail.com.

BELLbulletin

BELLbulletin is a pocket-guide approach to living well and being in the know in the Grand Canyon State through a concierge experience of Blackness, humanity and culture.

Founder: Leah Marché (Phoenix, Arizona)

Immediate next steps: Grow initial subscribers over the next year to 2,000 • Launch projects and events over the next year to include: 20/20 Shop Black Guide (December 2020); BELLbulletin Book Club (ongoing starting January 2021); Arizona Black Obituary Project (ongoing starting January 2021); The Big Annual of Black Arizona’s Best (February 2021), Arizona Black Culinary Xperience (April-June 2021).

How to help: Become one of 90 founding members for a lifetime membership of $90 • Become a contributor if you’re based in Arizona • Sponsor projects and events presented by BELLbulletin, including: the official virtual launch commemorating namesake Ida B. Wells/National Women’s Month/Black Press Month (March 2021); Ida B. Wells Birthday Celebration (July 2021); and the state’s National Black Poetry Day celebration (October 2021).

RANGE

A podcast and newsletter for people who love the Inland Northwest and want to make it better

Founder: Luke Baumgarten (Spokane, Washington)

Immediate next steps: We’re pushing hard to find the right content mix to keep things edgy, principled but also occasionally light and fun.

We’re forging partnerships with local producers, freelancers and historians to broaden the media we work within and dig deeper into our past.

How to help: Just check out our website, click through to a couple of stories and, if you feel compelled by the work we’re doing, support us with a paid subscription.

Sioux Falls Simplified

Sioux Falls Simplified is a regular email newsletter that cuts through the clutter and delivers the bite-sized news you need to know in the Sioux Falls metro area. It’s sort of like having a smart coworker to fill you in on what happened at City Council last night or how the school board voted on raising teacher pay.

Founder: Megan Raposa (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Immediate next steps: My next steps are finding initial sponsors and advertisers, building the website, solidifying the tech stack and preparing to launch in early 2021. The big goal is to have secured 100 emails before I formally launch, which I’m doing through organic outreach and interviews with future readers.

How to help: Know anyone in Sioux Falls or South Dakota? Help spread the word about Sioux Falls Simplified using the link above! Want to offer words of advice, encouragement or financial support? Email me at megan@sfsimplified.com.

TAUNT

A local, indie outlet not filtered through the white male gaze.

Founder: Minda Honey (Louisville, Kentucky)

Immediate next steps: My next major step for TAUNT is figuring how to find a couple of people to do much of the work I’m currently doing for TAUNT at no-cost, as I have some responsibilities in 2021 that will require a certain amount of attention. But I do not want TAUNT to lose any of the momentum it’s been generating (and in general, one person’s presence shouldn’t or break an initiative to serve the community, even if that one person is me).

How to help: To lend a hand in growing Team TAUNT, please donate.

Austin Vida

A Latino digital news and culture outlet aiming to empower our comunidad by amplifying our stories, events and cultura through the lens of resilience.

Editor/Publisher: Nancy Flores (Austin, Texas)

Immediate next steps: Austin Vida plans to relaunch in 2021 with a newsletter and then a website. In the meantime, it has begun publishing monthly cultural and community event guides. Our goal is to grow our subscriber base to 1,500 and secure $25,000 in funding from donors and sponsors who want to help lift the Latino community.

How to help: Be an ally to Austin’s Latino community and sign up. Share this Austin Vida Twitter post about our latest guide. Email us if you would like to support financially, have a sponsorship lead or are interested in supporting in any other way.

Black Women Unmuted

A digital media outlet reporting the political, social and civic activities of Black women in the United States. We take the sisters off mute, one story at a time.

Founder: Sonya Ross (Bowie, Maryland)

Immediate next steps: Our next steps involve chasing two things: good stories and seed funding! We’ve been met by a lot of enthusiasm, which is nice, and are confident that we can parlay that excitement into audience growth and content partnerships.

How to help: Please spread the word! Sign up for our newsletter and encourage others to do the same. You can help take the sisters off mute today with a $20 donation or by subscribing for $5 a month.

The Boulder Reporting Lab

The Boulder Reporting Lab is a modern, local news startup committed to quality journalism that digs beneath the surface. We cover and elevate issues of community concern and pride, for a more informed, inclusive and connected Boulder.

Founder: Stacy Feldman (Boulder, Colorado)

Immediate next steps: I am working to publish our first three original stories and a regular newsletter that will curate the most important community information. I’m working to raise $10,000 in seed funding to create at least 10 more original stories on issues of pressing community importance and develop a daily news capability that will enable me to prove our value, grow our audience and raise more money. I am also developing a founders program to attract 50 initial founding members.

How to help: Do you live, work, learn, play in or around Boulder, Colorado, or know anyone who does? Please spread the word! Sign up for our updates and newsletter, and share this link widely. And, if you believe in our mission — in rebuilding community journalism and deepening local conversation and connection in Colorado — and want to support us financially, or in any other way, please email Stacy Feldman at boulderreportinglab@gmail.com.

Ver·i·fi·a·bly

A direct messaging line to a multilingual journalist who can help you navigate COVID-19 news and misinformation online.

The news and digital literacy service is intended to help people in underserved communities including immigrants, refugees and the frontline workers who support them.

Founder: Susana Mas (unceded Algonquin territory)

Immediate next steps: To launch Verifiably’s direct messaging service, sign up new members and secure funding. A newsletter will also follow.

How to help: Verifiably is a local, independent, online news startup based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. If you are interested in supporting this project financially or if you are aware of grants or other funding opportunities that could help, please let me know. You can reach me at susana@verifiably.ca Thank you, merci, gracias!

Queerency

Queerency is a digital media startup that highlights the best queer-owned brands and the most inspiring LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs.

Founder: Travers Johnson (Washington, D.C.)

Immediate next steps: The next goal for Queerency is to continue growing our email newsletter subscriber list through social media marketing and targeted content releases like Holiday Queer, our popular holiday gift guide featuring more than 100 LGBTQ-owned businesses and nonprofits.

How to help: Do you know any LGBTQ entrepreneurs who deserve some shine or a queer-owned business that could benefit from increased visibility? Are you an ally or advertiser who wants to support the sustainability of LGBTQ-owned businesses? If so, sign up for our newsletter and shoot us an email at hello@queerency.com.

The Daily 219

A news update site that provides education and information on community issues and how those issues impact the African American community in Lake County, Indiana. We initially started the page as an update for Covid-19 information with a little community information to entice people to keep updated, but have since re-created the site and expanded its topics.

Founder: Karen Williams (Gary, Indiana)

Immediate next steps: Currently, we are still gathering subscriptions to see if the community will engage with this publication and whether we should keep it in its current form (with audio clips and written information) or provide written information in newsletter form. We are also changing the look of the page and looking for sponsorship.

How to help: Understand that although there are issues that affect a city or county in general, those same issues may have a different impact on communities of color within the same city or county. They may have to be handled differently within those communities.

A big thank you to the many folks who helped make this boot camp a success: Google News Initiative’s Ben Monnie and Conor Crowley for their partnership and support; Boot Camp Director Phillip Smith for developing the curriculum and structure, as well as coaching the participants with a deep well of knowledge and positivity; Jo Ellen Kaiser for being an invaluable resource and coach; Emily Zajac for her essential assistance; and to the speakers who shared their knowledge and entrepreneurial experience with these founders: Ashley Woods Branch, Jiquanda Johnson, Lawyers for Reporters and Color Farm Media.

LION Publishers

Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers is a…