The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is set to begin a yearlong research project to identify the information needs of the communities that will be served by three hyperlocal news startups. The findings will be shared with the outlets, which will use that knowledge to improve their content.
The project is supported by $77,000 in funding from the 2021 Google GNI Innovation Challenge, a global effort that empowers local newsrooms to better understand the communities they serve and use innovative online tools to develop new publishing business models.
Google selected 25 projects out of 190 applications from across Canada and the United States to receive a share of more than $3.2 million to help address the need for research in local news.
Led by Center Research Director Sarah Stonbely, PhD, the study will assess the information needs of three communities in New Jersey served by new hyperlocal startups: Trenton, greater Blairstown and Paterson. The startups – The Trenton Journal, The Ridge View Echo and a yet-to-be-named initiative led by the Paterson Alliance – were among the recipients of the first round of public funding from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind initiative to use state-level public funding to support and strengthen news and information.
The Center will work with the teams behind these startups to identify potential audiences, conduct focus groups and surveys, and incorporate the findings into their organizational planning and content.
“I believe it’s an opportunity for these new outlets to understand their audiences at the outset, and apply that knowledge during the formative startup stage,” says Stonbely. “I’m looking forward to working with the publishers and their communities, and we’re thankful for the support that Google is providing to do that.”
This research opportunity comes at a critical time when many news organizations – faced with fewer resources, downsizing and disinformation concerns – are re-examining how they engage with and provide information to their communities, Stonbely notes. That’s why another key goal of this project is to generalize the research process so that outlets outside of the study can also benefit.
“This project will give the new outlets a concrete understanding of their audience and connection to them from the beginning,” says Center Director Stefanie Murray. “It will make their content more responsive and representative of their audiences’ needs. It will also help the outlets to develop deep and reciprocal relationships with their communities from the start, which should make sustainability more likely.”
The project is scheduled to begin later this month and end in November 2022.
For more information on the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.