Google announced this morning it is providing funding for Wick Communications’ innovative initiative to create a journalist-curated, hyperlocal social media platform to develop critical community connections.

The news came as part of Google’s larger announcement of recipients of its inaugural North America Google News Initiative (GNI) Challenge funding to support projects that drive digital innovation and develop new business models. The GNI is funding 34 projects, selected from a highly competitive process of 269 applications across North America.

Wick’s Neighborhood Assisted Bureau Reporting (NABUR) project will establish a responsible, journalist-curated neighborhood social media platform for Wick-served communities based out of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Tucson, Arizona. Journalist product managers will cultivate healthy discourse in the Midwest communities of Fergus Falls, Breckenridge (Minn.), Wahpeton (N.D.), and Southern Arizona communities of  Sierra Vista, Bisbee, and Benson, periodically bringing community members together in real life (IRL) for events and discussions.

“We’re honored to be recipients of the inaugural GNI Challenge, assisting our advancement of community information and connections through a locally monitored, socially responsible neighborhood platform,” said Francis Wick, president and CEO of Wick Communications.

The Google News Initiative is providing funding for 70% of the project, which will include the hiring of two journalist product managers in each region to assist in the development and cultivation of the NABUR platform and conversations.

“The popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook and Nextdoor demonstrates there is an interest in a conversation-first approach to local news and information,” said Sean Fitzpatrick, Wick Digital Media Director. “In our pilot usability testing, though, potential subscribers have indicated a willingness to provide financial support for local content that provides context and answers the why and the how of these conversations.”

Wick Editorial Director Dan Shearer sees a unique opportunity for traditional newsrooms in the digital space.

“We’ve observed that social media seems to generate more questions than it answers,” Shearer said. “Our journalists are trained to find the answers to these questions.”

Read the full announcement from the Google News Initiative.