Google News Initiative partners with Gaven Morris’s Bastion Transform to launch live newsroom experiments in Australia and New Zealand.

Google News Initiative is partnering with Bastion Transform to launch a series of newsroom experiments to support innovation and trusted journalism.

Three news organisations – Nine Publishing, the National Indigenous Times and BusinessDesk New Zealand, owned by publisher New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) – will launch live pilots in their newsrooms, focusing on business growth and editorial excellence. The experiments will trial frameworks and the results to be shared with the broader industry.

Bastion Transform, the content strategy and digital transformation agency led by former ABC News Director Gaven Morris, is coordinating the projects over the coming six months and measuring the outcomes and industry impact.

“Newsroom innovation is more important than ever and finding the time and resources for journalism teams to step outside of daily coverage to shape, test and learn new ways of connecting with audiences is a struggle. This project enables editors and journalists to raise their sights beyond their deadlines and explore long-term change. It’s essential – it’s do or die.” Gaven Morris says.

The experimentation will focus on the biggest challenges and opportunities the partner newsrooms identify across their operations including storytelling, resourcing, workflows, platforms, data and technology.

Google News Lab ANZ Lead, Uma Patel, says she hopes to see the newsrooms make bold choices, to test the frontiers of what might be possible and whether they produce quick wins or lessons for future success, the teams have nothing to lose.

“Journalists iterate every single day, there’s no one way to break a story and the best journalists adapt and try different strategies to get what they need to publish the news readers need to know – so I have no doubt they’ve got the skills they need to think of and test new ideas to boost their journalism.

“We want to create a framework for how to prioritise, design, run and review experiments and hopefully nudge newsrooms to go beyond their comfort zones. If we’re only exploring areas we already know will succeed, we’re not being ambitious. If we don’t fail at some points along the way, we’re not taking enough risks,” she said.

Nine Publishing Executive Editor Tory Maguire says the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major turning point for the industry.

“There’s been a big shift in the way our audiences consume news, and the types of stories they’re demanding. If anyone has perfected the response to this, I’m yet to find out about it. Nine’s metro mastheads are in a strong position, with a huge audience base to seek new territory – and this is an incredible opportunity to go exploring” Ms Maguire says.

The National Indigenous Times is an independent First Nations-owned digital news publication, both online and printed. As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s looking to the next stage of growth and audience success.

NIT Chief Operating Officer, Reece Harley, says, “We’re a small team, with big ideas on an important mission – to tell Indigenous stories with integrity and to promote them into Australian conversations everywhere. We’ve never had the opportunity to be involved in a project like this – to have investment in ideas, techniques and technology to keep us at the cutting edge of innovation.”

In New Zealand, BusinessDesk is already a fast-growing, quick-scaling digital native with a start-up culture and an editorial reputation for breaking great stories. General Manager Matt Martel says the news media is now an industry defined by winners and losers, with the winners being the companies that innovate in tune with emerging audience demands.

“Newsrooms that embrace change are moving ahead and finding profit and success while those clinging to the past, or failing to be brave are falling behind. It is a great time to be a journalist as long as you’re supported to take risks, think laterally and be ahead of the others,” he says.

In the spirit of experimentation, the three teams will meet regularly and share their insights, challenges and results.

“Working with other newsrooms will provide a fantastic proof point along the way,” adds Mr. Martel.

At the conclusion of the program, even more newsrooms will get the chance to learn from the experimentation when Google presents the findings and learnings in an industry knowledge-sharing showcase.

“We want to see this resonate across the journalism industry. There’s never been more information on what engages audiences – excellent journalism matched with courageous exploration is the way to capture their minds,” says Ms Patel.

“I want to try things our newsroom has never ventured to do, across content and the way we operate. This is a high-return, low-risk project. Even if one of the experiments comes off, it’s a success.”

“It’s amazing to have Gaven and Bastion helping us work through what we want to try and Google’s support is invaluable.”