Last year Google launched its Digital News Innovation Challenge, first in the Asia/Pacific region, where it awarded funding to 23 recipients across 14 countries.

The latest expansion

brings the fund to the U.S. and Canada with Google’s first North American GNI Innovation Challenge.

The challenge invites proposed projects from the local news sector designed to

generate revenue or increase audience engagement. For example, a project might involve designing a new type of paywall or distribution stream for news.

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Projects may receive up to

$300,000, with funding provided for up to 70% of the project’s total cost. A panel evaluates submissions based on criteria including the project’s potential impact on the news ecosystem,

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level of innovation and feasibility to complete.

“We heard loud and clear from journalists across the United States and Canada that there is a significant need to empower news

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organizations and reporters who are covering their local communities because they are under increasing financial pressure,” the company stated in a blog post, citing the importance of reporting

on everything from city council hearings to changes in neighborhood infrastructure to a high school basketball game.

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The challenge comes at a time when local news is struggling more than

ever. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center released a report stating that while 71%

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of those surveyed believe their local news outlets were doing fine financially, only 14% had paid for access to local news coverage in the past year. Meanwhile, news deserts continue to spring up

across the country.

The new challenge follows the launch of Google’s Local Experiments Project earlier this year. The project is an attempt to fund local news websites across the

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country with the intention of taking their efforts global.

The project’s first partner to be announced was McClatchy, which launched its “Compass Experiment” with

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Google’s help. The project will culminate in the launch of three digital-news only operations focused on local coverage over multiple platforms.