Accelerate Local’s NewsFuel platform, announced in October as a recipient of funding from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, connects funding entities with news organizations seeking grants for journalism projects.

Accelerate Local is an entity powered by Local Media Association that is committed to ensuring the future of local news now, by discovering, vetting, developing, testing and delivering continuously profitable business models at the pace required in a disruptive media market.

The NewsFuel project will combine the development of a grant-recipient matching platform with subject-matter expertise to identify prospective funders, news organizations, and journalism projects. NewsFuel is co-led by Peter Newton, managing director of Accelerate Local, and Jed Williams, chief strategy officer of Local Media Association. They shared new details about the NewsFuel platform: how it will be launched, key performance indicators, and why LMA decided to pursue this project.

Can you explain how the idea for NewsFuel came about?

Peter Newton

Newton: We see news organizations increasingly constrained with resources they can allocate to quality, local journalism. At the same time, there is an increasing demand from consumers for local journalism, and especially investigative reporting, and there are a number of funding organizations that are interested and willing to fund journalism. But there’s no platform out there that helps bring those two sides together and make it easy for news organizations to showcase what they can do. Our solution is a platform that makes it easy for news organizations and funders to find each other, and find the right fit, for it to work quickly and seamlessly, and — if desired — with advice from experts that will help them navigate the platform and the process.

How will the NewsFuel project get off the ground?

Newton: There are two fundamental parts of the process. One is literally taking an inventory of all U.S. news organizations. The organization itself could be a newspaper, TV station, radio station, public broadcaster, digital-only publisher – their number of reporters, awards they’ve won, and other notes of distinction and capabilities. And the flip side of that is, from an inventory standpoint, all of the potential funding organizations. So we’ll have both of those lists, and they will be populated into the databases that we build. 

That gets to the second phase, and that’s a design-and-build of the matchmaking platform itself. We’ll retain a design and development firm that will help us do that. They’ll design the ultimate user experience that we want and then figure out what the right technology platform, website design, features, and functionality set should be. Then they’ll build that site and experience. We expect to stand up a public-facing experience of that platform in early 2020.

Is this open to all media organizations? 

Jed Williams

Williams: Absolutely. We’re completely agnostic about this platform. In total, more than 8,700 media organizations will be included in the NewsFuel database in the first phase.

What types of funders will be included in the NewsFuel platform?

Newton: At the start, there are organizations or foundations that are distinctly set up to support journalism. Then there are more broad-based organizations that, among the support they provide, include journalism, but they’re not limited to that. Then we’ll go broader. The third set is where journalism fits into their mission, but it’s not part of their historical grants made.

We do see a potential future expansion of the platform to crowdsourcing. And there are certainly some crowdsourcing models out there emerging, like what The Seattle Times is doing for investigative reporting. 

Williams: By doing this diligence, we may uncover a mid- and long-tail set of organizations that could be interested in either funding journalism for the first time or funding journalism more robustly than they have in the past There are some obvious names that will come into this early on. But who else might be out there institutionally, individually, where this may be a part of their mission?  There is an opportunity to not just catalog the existing universe, but open up the addressable universe of funders here.

How will media companies be involved in the process of building the NewsFuel platform and after it’s launched?

Newton: Our plan is to set up a process where news organizations can self-populate. We will be doing a lot of the population ourselves at the same time. We’ll be appealing certainly to some larger news organizations that have multiple outlets … where it would really behoove them. But other smaller independents, we either plan to do it for them, or they can do it to ensure that they’re in early.

Williams: Particularly with larger media companies, we want them to have some level of buy-in and participation from the start. When we’re building the platform, we’re going to facilitate product working groups from both sides of the marketplace, for the media organizations and the funding organizations, to give us continuous feedback on how to build this in a way that’s optimal for them.

What are some of the key performance indicators for NewsFuel?

Newton: One of the outcomes that we expect, if we’re successful in two or three years, is that this entire platform and all of the funding that it contributes to generating will fund 1,000-plus reporter positions.

We think that by making the process very open with a lot of visibility and transparency and especially easy-to-use, that we will grow the pie tremendously. We’ll grow the number of funds that are flowing directly through to support journalism.