Google announced on 18 July that Youngstown, Ohio, will be the first city in its Compass Experiment, a joint venture with newspaper publishing company McClatchy to revive local news. This is a timely announcement as the city’s only daily newspaper is due to close its doors on 31 August this year.
The Compass Experiment, part of the Google News Initiative, is a local digital news lab founded between the two organizations. The Youngstown site is one of three initial digital-only news operations – with the two sites yet to be named – that they intend to launch and operate “ in small to mid-sized US communities that have limited sources of local, independent journalism” over the next three years.
The project’s goal is to not only “support the dissemination of news in these communities, but also make the local operations financially self-sustaining, through experimentation with a variety of revenue models”, and share lessons learned with “with the broader news community” with the intention of replicating the same – or similar – model elsewhere in the country.
Each site will be independently built and “may launch with different platforms and revenue models”. They will also be entirely owned and operated with McClatchy, which the companies said has “sole editorial control over content”.
Compass consulted with Penelope Muse Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina and author of a 2018 study on the loss of local journalism in the United States, when analyzing potential communities for the project’s first local digital news sites.
In a blog post, Mandy Jenkins, general manager of the Compass Experiment, noted the closure of Youngstown’s daily newspaper, The Vindicator, will leave the city “and a larger region of about 500,000 people, without a daily newspaper”.
“The timing of such a loss couldn’t be worse for Youngstown, which has suffered through a tremendous economic downturn over the last 40 years,” she added. “While the area may be struggling financially, Youngstown has a distinct identity and a strong sense of community, which is why we want to help build a path forward for local news.”
“We at McClatchy are looking forward to continuing our close collaboration with Google as we embark on this next important step. Over the course of the next three years, we will be sharing our successes, failures and what we’ve learned to the media industry at large,” she said.
According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated circulation of daily newspapers in the US fell to 28.6 million in 2018, down from 48.6 million a decade earlier – and newsroom jobs have dropped by 25 percent since 2008. Facebook also recently admitted it’s struggling to find enough local news.