Announcing the GNI Startups Lab: Helping independent digital news publishers work toward sustainability

If you’re an independent digital news publisher, you probably know what it’s like to draft a budget, cold call potential

December 17, 2020 by Lisa Heyamoto

If you’re an independent digital news publisher, you probably know what it’s like to draft a budget, cold call potential advertisers, troubleshoot tech issues and debate the merits of an anecdotal lede — all in one afternoon.

It’s hard work to produce the quality journalism that keeps audiences informed and communities thriving. It’s even harder to achieve the right revenue mix to pay for it. That’s why, in partnership with the Google News Initiative, we’re launching the GNI Startups Lab in North America, a six-month program that will provide a small group of independent digital news startups with coaching and capital to help put them on the path to sustainability.

This is the next phase of our GNI Startups Program, which supports existing and aspiring independent news entrepreneurs. Just weeks ago, our inaugural Boot Camp graduated 24 news founders who launched or further developed their ideas for independent news startups. Now, our Startups Lab will champion existing businesses that have demonstrated some traction around product, audience and/or revenue as they plot their financial futures. We’re grateful for the support from GNI, which plans to launch global extensions of this program next year in Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The GNI Startups Lab will provide news businesses with:

  • A sustainability audit to diagnose financial, journalistic and operational health
  • Big picture strategic and in-the-weeds tactical consulting around people, product and profit
  • One-on-one coaching to learn, build, and measure a revenue-generating experiment
  • A pool of direct funding to enable founders to execute that experiment

Here’s why the Lab could be a great fit for your news business:

It takes a holistic approach to sustainability

We know a news business’ journalistic impact is inextricable from its financial health. And we think there’s another important factor in building sustainable journalism businesses: internal operations. This includes things like hiring and retention strategies, building a healthy team culture, creating efficient workflows and managing potential burnout. Without effectively running your internal operations, a news business’ journalistic and financial success is likely to fall short of its potential. We like to think of it as people, product and profit coming together to worthy ends.

That’s why we’ve taken a more holistic definition of sustainability — one that recognizes that true endurance lies at the nexus of operational resilience, journalistic impact and financial health.

It’s tailored to your news business’ specific needs

News businesses share many similar challenges, and the best chance for meeting those challenges is adopting an iterative cycle of building, measuring and learning. But startups grow at different paces and work toward different ambitions, and we have a lot more to learn about what standardized and scalable resources are most effective.

That’s why for this first Lab, we’re combining cohort-wide training with one-on-one coaching. The bulk of the Lab is devoted to exploring a specific revenue-generating experiment, with participants offering a hypothesis, testing it, measuring its success and applying those learnings to a plan for sustainability.

Through coaching, capital, curriculum and community, participants will explore questions like:

  • Do you have a plan and a process to grow your team?
  • Is your journalism and delivery method the right fit for your audience?
  • How do you define financial health? What do you need to achieve it?

It will give you the funding and support to run smart experiments

For many entrepreneurs, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done — especially when you’re running a news business. Chances are, you have a long list of things you want to learn and try to make your startup successful. This Lab gives you the time, the focus and the resources to put those ideas into action.

It will also provide direct funding to enable publishers to execute a revenue-generating experiment. The exact amount each participant will receive will be determined based on the specific experiments each one is seeking to explore.

You’re eligible if you:

  • Are based in the U.S. or Canada
  • Are independently owned and operated
  • Produce original content that is primarily on a digital platform(s)
  • Have been operating for at least six months
  • Earn less than $500,000 per year in gross revenue
  • Can demonstrate some successes on the path to sustainability. Examples include increased site visits, a growing membership program or increased earned revenue.

And you focus on one or more of the following:

  • Public interest journalism
  • Filling an information gap
  • Serving a geographic-bound or single subject community
  • Serving an underserved community
  • Exploring new ways to deliver and/or monetize information

We are especially interested in supporting publishers who are from historically underrepresented communities in traditional media or who are working to elevate those often underrepresented voices.

The application deadline is January 24 at 11:59 p.m. PT. We’ll host information sessions in January to answer any questions you may have. Sign up for the LION newsletter for announcements on those dates.

We’ll select 20 applicants from our initial pool, who will receive a more detailed audit that focuses on measuring the publication’s current journalistic impact, financial health and operational resilience. Based on that audit, we’ll select the group of Lab participants.

Apply here!

For any questions, email me at [email protected].

Sign up for the weekly newsletter

Join the LION mailing list to get our weekly roundup of opportunities and resources for news entrepreneurs. View our most recent issues.