Announcing our second AI in Local News cohort

This time with four newsroom partners spanning the U.S.

Hannah Wise
Published in
5 min readJun 13, 2022


Logos for our newsroom partners: AfroLA, Dallas Free Press, Open Vallejo and The 19th

The Local News Lab at Columbia Journalism School is thrilled to announce our second cohort of newsroom partners for our project to develop tools to promote sustainability of local news organizations: AfroLA, Dallas Free Press, Open Vallejo, and The 19th*. Each of these partners brings unique experience, expertise, perspectives, with deep commitment to serving historically underrepresented communities.

Starting this month, our new cohort will kick-off following on the heels of our first project, with The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Texas Tribune, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s AI in Local News Initiative. Our first project resulted in the successful deployment of an article recommendation system to our partners’ sites where it led to increased reader engagement on our recommended article module (as measured by clickthrough rate, or CTR) by as much as 18%.

Based on our experience with our first cohort, we have made a few significant changes to the project this time around: we are spending eight months with our partners, and we have expanded to four partners. Where our first partners were established outlets (both a legacy organization and a digital-first start-up), with in-house engineering teams, this new cohort consists entirely of digital media organizations with fewer than 50 people on staff. Three out of the four do not have in-house engineering staff. This presents new challenges for our lab team — we are eager to be in service of small outlets and collaborate on a product that builds on the work we’ve created so far. The longer project timeframe means we can spend more time doing product discovery work as this project may take a new direction than the last. The additional time will also afford our technical team room for creativity and experimentation, allowing us to balance innovation and intentionality. We have not just added one, but two additional newsrooms this time, which we’re able to do given AfroLA is still pre-launch. So, in their case, we will contribute to the process and planning a live product deployment. One key takeaway from our first cohort was that partners enjoyed the opportunity to work with colleagues in the industry. Our hope is that a bigger cohort will lead to more opportunities for collaboration and connection among the group.

We have also added capacity-building — including knowledge and expertise-building — to the programming. We will be working with our partners to identify common areas in which they need more proficiency or fluency and create curriculum around them. These could include audience and community engagement, product thinking and development, data science and analytics, and more.

We could not be more excited to get started and share our work along the way!

About our new partners:


​​AfroLA covers greater Los Angeles through the lens of the Black community. We’re tired of tropes and assumptions about Black people in the media. We’re tired of local news that doesn’t scratch the surface of the communities they cover. We want news with nuance and context and narratives from people you might not normally hear from or about.

AfroLA’s mission is to find, celebrate and share intersectionality and universality in the Black experience. “Afro Angeleno,” or AfroLA, celebrates diversity in backgrounds and unity in culture and experiences within L.A. and beyond.

“Afro” is also a nod to the change in identity language during the Civil Rights era and rise of the Black Power movement. We’re Black, proud and make no apologies for either. AfroLA leans into the fact that no form of Blackness is a monolith. We are who we are — no matter what shade our skin is or where we call home. AfroLA celebrates it all without pause.

We are: Unapologetic. Black. Los Angeles.

Dallas Free Press

Our nonprofit journalism amplifies voices in disinvested Dallas neighborhoods and explores solutions to our city’s systemic inequities. Award-winning journalist Keri Mitchell, who spent 15 years dedicated to community and civic journalism at Dallas’ Advocate magazines, launched Dallas Free Press in 2020 with the belief that all neighborhoods deserve reporting and storytelling that values their community and holds leaders accountable.

Dallas Free Press was named 2021’s “New Publisher of the Year” by Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers for “being truly rooted in community and public service … starting from a place of community listening, meeting real information needs, and centering equity.” We focus our community journalism efforts in South Dallas and West Dallas, two historically redlined neighborhoods, and that work informs collaborative projects to tackle complex civic issues with solutions journalism.

Open Vallejo

Open Vallejo is an award-winning, independent, non-partisan, nonprofit newsroom serving the public interest. We seek to illuminate a small city long burdened by police violence, neglect, and corruption.

As the first project of the Informed California Foundation, Open Vallejo is also a permanent design laboratory for open source, high-impact, broadly-accessible frameworks for ensuring local transparency, accountability, and information justice.

The 19th*

The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy. Our goal is to empower those we serve — particularly women, women of color and the LGBTQ+ community — with the information, resources and community they need to be equal participants in our democracy. We will do this through:

  • Free-to-consume and free-to-republish journalism that reimagines politics and policy coverage through a gender lens.
  • Deep-dive, evidence-based reporting that exposes gender inequity and injustice, and reveals surprising and original stories on the issues that most deeply affect the lives of women and LGBTQ+ people, from health care to the economy.
  • A digital platform for civil conversations and community building, and national events that bring our readers into direct contact with their elected officials.
  • A newsroom that reflects the racial, ideological, socioeconomic and gender diversity of American voters, and is devoted to covering everyone with empathy.

About the Local News Lab

The Brown Institute’s Local News Lab is a team of engineers, designers, and data scientists working to build AI-powered, open-source products to help support local newsrooms and their businesses. The team’s work is collaborative, partnering with small- to medium-sized publishers across the country.

While large national news outlets can have groups of data scientists in-house producing insights and products that optimize audience engagement and drive reader revenue, helping ensure their sustainability and survival; local and community-based newsrooms are often left stretching their limited resources in every direction. We aim to help our partner organizations overcome the barriers to mobilizing the best data science to support their business strategies.

We are grateful to the Charina Endowment and the John S. Knight Foundation for supporting our work.



Hannah Wise

Product + Community Lead at the Local News Lab (@LocalAtBrown) at Brown Institute (@BrownInstitute) | Coach + Consultant | Former @cbcnews