Project Oasis is a Google-backed research initiative to support local news startups

As part of its $300 million News Initiative, Google is teaming up with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, local news association LION Publishers and consultant Douglas K. Smith to launch a new initiative called Project Oasis.

In a blog post for Google, UNC CISLM Director Susan Leath wrote that this project is partly a response to the school’s News Deserts Project (hence the Oasis name), which tracks the disappearance of local newspapers in the United States — apparently 2,100 of them have closed between 2004 and 2020, creating significant gaps in community coverage.

Leath continued:

Despite these stark numbers, we’re starting to see the evidence that local news digital startups can thrive in communities and fill these gaps. [UNC Professor Penny Abernathy’s] research has shown that a positive response to the loss of local newspapers has come from the several hundred digital news outlets that now span the country, most of them started in the past decade. Project Oasis will build on a range of programs at UNC CISLM to arm these local news publishers with sustainable practices to help strengthen their digital business models and strategies.

The first piece of this project is a survey of digital news organizations that will run through April. The aim is to create a database of online local news publications in the U.S. and Canada, a set of case studies focusing on specific publishers and a “starter pack” for entrepreneurs as they consider launching local publications of their own.

In a blog post of his own, LION Publishers Executive Director Chris Krewson said the “ultimate goal” is to create “a guide to help entrepreneurs start local news businesses, and existing local news startup founders learn from the successes of their peers.”

Krewson added:

This guide won’t be prescriptive; we won’t favor one tax status over another; we won’t mandate that success equals using any particular CMS; we won’t declare that financial sustainability can only come via the use of programmatic advertising or paid referral services. The reality is we need to try to learn from as many approaches as possible, because every community and business problem is different and our tools and platforms are rapidly changing.