The Local News Incubator

The American Journalism Project’s Local News Incubator, created with support from the Google News Initiative, is intended to back entrepreneurs who want to explore launching a new nonprofit local news organization to serve their communities. 

Inspired by the success of organizations like Capital B, which used pre-launch grants and startup support to build successful news organizations, this program will aim to accelerate the progress in launching local nonprofit news organizations that have outstanding talent and capital from the start. Our goal is to guide the launch of ambitious and resilient nonprofit news organizations with seed capital and support to complete a robust research and development stage and fundraising campaign.

Meet our first cohort

On July 10, 2023, we announced the four teams selected to participate in the Local News Incubator. Representing communities across the country, these four teams have compelling ideas for filling a local news gap in their communities.

From July 2023 through December 2024, AJP will use its experience supporting grantees and successfully launching nonprofit news startups to provide teams with a roadmap, coaching, and technical assistance to identify communities, understand information needs and the existing news ecosystem, fundraise, set up organizational infrastructure, and ultimately support the launch of a solution to meet community needs.

We shared more about the incubator participants on our blog. Here’s more about each of the participating teams and what they hope to accomplish:

Adrienne C. McWilliams and Brandon Braswell, Miami

McWilliams and Braswell will incubate a community newsroom serving Miami’s diverse population, delivering local news and information via a video-first platform.

Adrienne C. McWilliams is a media strategist, digital platform builder, and entrepreneur leveraging 18+ years of experience in media, technology, and community. She began her career in media at CBS-4 Miami and Miami-Dade TV before leading a content agency for 13 years. Adrienne oversaw production for global travel brands in over 40 countries and communications strategy for corporate social responsibility projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

With Braswell, she built two on-demand streaming platforms for Apple TV, Firestick and Roku, managed global production teams, and launched Travelspective, a travel channel, on Apple TV and hotel in-room channels in Europe and Asia. Adrienne has a focus on shifting the paradigm of current content consumption and fostering local connections; she’s passionate about video utility, civic engagement, and transforming communities through entrepreneurship.

Adrienne was born in Mississippi, raised in Tulsa, Okla., and has lived in Miami for over 23 years. Adrienne is a graduate of Florida International University School of Communications & Journalism. 

Brandon Braswell is a content director, digital platform builder, and entrepreneur with a passion for digital media. He began his career working in every aspect of production to post production, as well as testing over a thousand apps for Apple. With over 15 years of experience, he excels in product development and video storytelling. His expertise lies in creative video formats, content strategy, project management, streaming platforms, and video production workflows. His ability to identify patterns of the past and how they reinvent themselves in the future helps cultivate innovative concepts amongst our team. 

Born in New York and a graduate of Miami International University of Art & Design, Brandon is also the creator of the 90’s nostalgia animated series ’9 to 5 Warriors.’

Yawu Miller and Claudio Martinez, Greater Boston

Miller and Martinez will build out a local news offering for communities of color in greater Boston that covers issues including  politics, public policy, community development, economic justice, criminal justice, race and social justice.

Yawu Miller was the senior editor at the Bay State Banner, where he began his career in journalism in 1993. His father and uncle started the newspaper in 1965 to serve Boston’s African American community. Under Yawu’s direction, the newspaper has expanded its scope to cover news in the region’s Latino and Asian-American communities.

Yawu has written for news outlets, including CommonWealth Magazine and GBH News, and regularly appears on Boston news programs, including Greater Boston and Talking Politics. Yawu worked as a deputy director of the Public Policy Institute, a nonprofit lobbying, and organizing group, where he helped manage statewide legislative and ballot campaigns. Yawu also worked in state government, serving as director of outreach for the Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor.

He was named one of the 100 most influential Bostonians by Boston Magazine in 2022. In his decades as editor, Yawu has trained scores of reporters who have gone on to report for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Wired Magazine, Reuters, and other news media.

Claudio Martinez is a civic leader and nonprofit senior executive who has worked to advance education, culture, and economic development in Boston and Massachusetts for more than 30 years. He is a member of the inaugural class of the Barr Foundation Fellows Program, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Mel King Community Fellow, a former trustee of The Boston Foundation, and a 2022 Pahara Institute Fellow. 

Claudio is the Executive Director of Zero Debt Massachusetts, and he co-directs Boston University’s School of Social Work BRIDGE (Building Refugees and Immigrant Degrees in Graduate Education) Program. 

For 25 years, Claudio led The Hyde Square Task Force, a youth community development organization in the heart of Boston’s Latin Quarter. As a neighborhood advocate, community organizer, and parent, Claudio has promoted Boston education reform efforts serving as founding co-chair of the Boston Parent Organizing Network and Vice-chair of the Boston School Committee.  

Jake Hylton and Joseph Jaafari, Phoenix

Hylton and Jaafari will expand on their work with LOOKOUT, which aims to get Phoenix’s queer community more engaged in politics and community and bring LGBTQIA+ issues top-of-mind and above-the-fold through accountability journalism.

Jake Hylton spent the last five years working in residential housing, leading The Jake Hylton Team with Retro Real Estate. Jake has extensive (nearly lifelong) experience in startups and small business – including apprenticing for his mom’s restaurant consulting business starting at the age of 10.

After pursuing an arts degree and spending his early twenties working in, managing, and founding arts organizations, Jake decided to trade his love of arts for the world of startups. He worked for multiple startups, then quickly realized that he was best-suited to run a business of his own. Armed with an array of small business knowledge, a love for his home-state’s LGBTQIA+ community, and a love for his partner Joseph’s passion for accountability reporting, Jake signed on to be the Founding Executive Director of LOOKOUT Phx. 

Joseph Darius Jaafari is an investigative reporter and editor based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Starting out as a blogger in Los Angeles, Jaafari went to CUNY York College for film and journalism and graduated Summa Cum Laude. 

He worked as a features writer for the San Mateo Daily Journal, San Francisco’s 7×7 Magazine, and worked in legal trade publications covering military health and workers’ compensation before getting his graduate degree from The Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in urban reporting. He has written accountability features on policing within Toronto, Seattle and Detroit’s queer communities for Rolling Stone Magazine, THEM, Teen Vogue and VICE News. His documentary WOOF: A Barkumentary received international recognition for its work on exposing abuse within the queer kink scene. He also has been published in The Atlantic, VICE News, and The New York Times on issues such as military safety, HIV discrimination, and sexual assault within African townships. 

Since 2019, Jaafari has worked as an investigative reporter for The Marshall Project, PA Post, Spotlight PA and The Arizona Republic covering prisons, jails, and police. His work on that beat has earned him recognition from the Keystone Awards, Best of the West and he was a finalist for the Silver Gavel Award in 2023.

He currently is the Editor in Chief of LOOKOUT, the nation’s only nonprofit investigative queer news outlet, and works as a volunteer editor for the Prison Journalism Project mentoring incarcerated people on how to practice journalism inside correctional facilities.

John Schrag and Lee van der Voo, Oregon

Schrag and van der Voo will explore how to provide high-quality, community-first reporting and partnerships to disrupt misinformation and target news gaps, supporting Oregon’s existing newsrooms while diversifying and training the next generation of Oregon journalists.

John Schrag is the executive editor of the Pamplin Media Group, which employs local journalism to three dozen communities throughout Oregon, leading collaborations with outside news partners and group-wide projects within the company. John got his start at The Chicago Reporter, an investigative magazine focusing on race and equity and serves on the advisory board of the Chicago-based Investigative Project on Race and Equity. He lives in rural Washington County.

Lee van der Voo is a journalist with 20 years’ experience in the Oregon market. She is the former managing director of the nonprofit newsroom InvestigateWest, where she coordinated and managed collaborative news projects in Oregon, wrote grants to support them, and represented InvestigateWest’s journalism in Oregon to funders and to the public. She lives in North Portland and currently edits investigations at Civil Eats.