Google's next local news investment is in Oakland

Berkeleyside founders Lance Knobel, Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor. Photo credit: Tippett Studio

A new Oakland, California-based journalism venture will launch next spring with $1.56 million in funding from the Google News Initiative (GNI), executives tell Axios. It has also raised $1.56 million from the American Journalism Project, a new, well-funded venture philanthropy nonprofit focused on local news.

Why it matters: It's the third local news organization that Google has funded this year as part of its larger $300 million effort to support journalism.

  • Unlike previous projects Google has previously backed, this initiative isn't serving a small town. Oakland has 425,000 residents and sits in Google's back yard.

Yes, but: Like many other cities across the country, Oakland finds itself reeling from the economic crisis in local news.

  • In 2016, the Bay Area News Group (BANG) merged six daily newspapers into 2 publications, leaving Oakland without its own daily newspaper. The Oakland Tribune became a part of the East Bay Times, along with several nearby local papers.
  • Bay Area News Group (BANG) is owned by Digital First Media, a local media conglomerate, which is owned by media hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Reports surfaced this year suggesting BANG was bracing for significant layoffs.

Details: The publication will launch as a website next spring with eight editorial staffers. The team plans to launch a newsletter and is exploring other mediums, like podcasts. Its name is to be determined.

  • It's being launched by the same leadership team behind Berkeleyside, a local news outlet in Oakland's neighbor town.
  • The site's editorial team will be led by editor-in-chief Tasneem Raja, a former senior editor at NPR and Mother Jones. She said she received written assurance that Google would have no input whatsoever into editorial decisions:
  • The business model will be a mix of non-profit donations, live experiences and underwriting from corporations.

The big picture: These news outlets are part of a trend in local media toward the non-profit model, which allows them to accept donations while still selling commercial sponsorships or advertising.

  • The move coincides with Berkeleyside’s conversion to a new nonprofit organization. The team is forming a new to-be-named umbrella non-profit organization, which will oversee both Berkeleyside and the new to-be-named Oakland property. The team has plans to expand this non-profit umbrella elsewhere.

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