Investing at the idea stage: kicking off our local news incubator

This summer, we announced the four teams participating in the American Journalism Project’s local news incubator, an 18-month program to support the buildout of new ideas to bring local news to communities. In July, we kicked off our work with incubator participants, bringing talent and experience from across the AJP team to set a strong foundation for their new organizations.

AJP VP of strategy and startups, Loretta Chao leads a session on program strategy planning

When we launched the local news incubator, we began a first-of-its-kind program to support a diverse and thriving local news nonprofit movement. With support from the Google News Initiative, we’re giving incubator participants the tools, resources and investments they need to advance their concepts for new local news offerings in their communities. This program embodies our belief that the local news field thrives when we invest in all stages of the organization-building cycle, including the conceptual stage.

During this kickoff, our staff and consultants shared their expertise on programming, revenue building, and community engagement. These workshops introduced incubator participants to the core steps to launching a local news nonprofit, offering guidance on business strategy, community research and engagement, donor cultivation and program planning. We began with the framework for creating a value proposition, including a business model canvas. We then outlined market research and community engagement strategies, and strategies for scouting new donors. We also shared steps to map a program strategy that includes guiding principles and audiences, news delivery formats, partnerships and staffing, and a timeline.

Sara Elghobashy of Bash Advisory leads a session on making the case for support

This curriculum approach is a result of our local philanthropy partnerships work, startup studio learnings, and learnings from our portfolio at-large. Core to our startups support is leveraging our experiences and resources to create a strong foundation for a sustainable news organization. In the coming months of the incubator, participants will receive coaching from AJP staff and journalism and business leaders in our network; this coaching will cover research, editorial strategy, finance, operations, business development and movement building. 

One important pillar of our support is around what we call “movement building,” an essential pillar of a local news nonprofit’s sustainability strategy. News organizations need to get people excited about the impact they are having in their communities, and make the case for how local news connects to and serves as a spotlight on essential issues. Helping people see the role local news plays across issues is the first step to developing a strong roster of community ambassadors and philanthropic supporters.

Philanthropy and community members  play an essential role in meeting local news talent where they are and in providing the capital, counsel and professional guidance to catalyze the successful development of a great idea. Investing in a strong foundation helps lower barriers to entry to local news entrepreneurship, and ultimately gets high quality local news to more communities who need it. 

In case you missed the original announcement, here’s more on the four teams participating in the local news incubator:

  • Adrienne C. McWilliams and Brandon Braswell will incubate a community newsroom serving Miami’s diverse population, delivering local news and information via a video-first platform.
  • Yawu Miller and Claudio 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.
  • Jake Hylton and Joseph 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.
  • John Schrag and Lee 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.
More about the local news incubator:

The local news incubator aims to lower barriers to entry for prospective founders of local news organizations and diversify the field. By providing robust funding ($400,000 per team over 18 months) and counsel, this kind of program allows local news talent to go all-in on their ideas and draw on lessons learned from other nonprofit local news organizations across the country, with the runway that will provide them financial security to take an entrepreneur’s leap. Leveraging insights and successes of the local news organizations in our portfolio, the incubator will help these founding teams climb learning curves faster about what it takes to launch a successful local news nonprofit.

This program is the first of its kind for the American Journalism Project, inspired by the success of organizations like Capital B and Mountain State Spotlight, which used pre-launch funding and startup support to build a successful news operation.

Hermione Malone is AJP’s vice president of strategy & startups, overseeing the implementation of our local philanthropy partnerships and local news incubator.