Leading the Way: As general manager of the Compass Experiment, Mandy Jenkins will explore new sustainable models for local news.

Author:Tornoe, Rob
Position:Digital publishing - Interview

Google's latest multimillion dollar mea culpa to the news industry will soon be staffing up.

After spending years sucking away digital advertising revenue from newsrooms across the country, the online search giant is attempting to make amends by spending big bucks to launch three new hyperlocal websites in underserved communities with a focus on sustainability.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. Google isn't building the websites or hiring the reporters themselves--they're paying McClatchy "many millions of dollars" over the next three years to do it, according to Google's vice president of news Richard Gingras. The websites, which will be part of McClatchy's sci-fi sounding Compass Experiment, will focus on underserved communities in the U.S. with less than half a million people.

While Google's commitment to directly fund journalism should be applauded, keep in mind that three new websites won't come close to replacing the 1,800 newspapers (mostly weeklies) that have been forced to close since 2004, according to a recent report from the University of North Carolina on news deserts. Which is why the sustainability portion of this experiment is more important than Google writing a check to hire reporters.

The funding for the Local Experiments Project comes from the Google News Initiative (GNI), which launched back in 2018 with a commitment to spend $300 million to help the struggling world of journalism over a three-year period (if that number sounds familiar, it's the same amount Facebook also pledged to spend to help local news survive earlier this year).

To run the Compass Experiment, McClatchy tapped Mandy Jenkins, a Project Thunderdome veteran and the former editor-in-chief of Storyful. But more importantly, Jenkins began her career at local newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Cincinnati Enquirer, so she knows a thing or two about what works on the local level. That's good, since Jenkins' task is not just creating excellent news content, but also developing three self-sufficient businesses in the process.

In a conversation with E&P, the recently-hired Jenkins spoke about what attracted her to the Google experiment and what it's like taking a role under such a bright journalism spotlight. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. You can follow Jenkins on Twitter @mjenkins and keep tabs on the progress of the Compass Experiment by following its page on Medium.

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