Google announces funding for Wick, ASU's Cronkite School research project

Wick Communications is partnering with Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on a project supported by Google to research strategies for facilitating healthy online discourse. 

The Voices Listening Project, one of 25 included in the Google News Initiative’s third North America Innovation Challenge, was announced Tuesday. The 25 projects were chosen out of 190 from Canada and the U.S. to receive a share of more than $3.2 million to help build their ideas that address the need for research in local news.

Over the next year, the Cronkite School and Wick Communications will engage with local communities to understand their needs and to research products and strategies that combat misinformation and encourage healthy online dialogue. Three diverse communities in Arizona will be selected for the research.

“This opportunity helps elevate the voices and journalistic needs of Arizonans while engaging in a partnership with Cronkite, a best-of-class journalism school,” Wick Communications CEO Francis Wick said. “We’re eager to take these learnings and help apply them to our own organization to better serve the communities we’re in today.” 

The project will also offer a dozen students paid internships to learn audience research and product management skills — both of which are becoming essential in the media industry. 

“The partnership with Wick Communications and the Cronkite School continues to spotlight the importance of journalism leveraging the pivotal role it plays in our democracy,” said Battinto L. Batts Jr., dean of the Cronkite School. “As a global force for change, we are committed to conducting this critical research.”

This is the first large-scale partnership between the two organizations, but each has deep experience in the field of misinformation research. 

The Cronkite School’s News Co/Lab, which will play a key role in this project, advances media literacy by providing open-access digital media literacy educational resources and working with newsrooms to improve transparency into the newsgathering process. 

“Misinformation is a problem in communities of all sizes, and local news organizations have an important role to play in not only delivering credible content but also in fostering civil and constructive dialogue,” News Co/Lab Managing Director Kristy Roschke said. “Wick Communications has an impressive track record in this area, and we are excited to partner with them as they continue to find new ways to connect with their communities.” 

In early 2020, Wick Communications — a family-owned media company based in Sierra Vista, Arizona, that operates newsrooms in 25 markets across 11 states — launched NABUR, the Neighborhood Alliance for Better Understanding and Respect, a journalist-moderated community conversations platform that allows members to discuss local issues using facts, not vitriol. 

Both organizations are also previous individual recipients of funding from Google News Initiative funding, a global effort to enable a sustainable, diverse and innovative ecosystem of quality journalism. Wick Communications’ NABUR project was selected in 2019, the initiative’s first North America challenge. The Cronkite School was also selected that year for the Interactive Story Wall, a way to visualize and explain data-driven stories on broadcast and digital platforms using a touch screen that helps audiences better understand complex issues, according to the Google News Initiative.

The research learnings from this new project will be shared broadly with the journalism industry. 

“We know the rise of online misinformation and disinformation is a fundamental issue for the news business and our society at large,” Wick Communications Digital Audience Editor Reilly Kneedler said. “This innovative partnership made possible by the Google News Initiative will allow us to address this issue head on. We’re excited to get started.”