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.

Over the next year, the two organizations will engage with local communities to understand their needs and 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.” 

Top row from left: Wick Communications CEO Francis Wick, Wick Digital Director Sean Fitzpatrick, Wick Editorial Director Dan Shearer. Bottom row from left: Wick Digital Audience Editor Reilly Kneedler, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Dean Battinto L. Batts Jr., Cronkite School’s News Co/Lab Managing Director Kristy Roschke.

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,” explained Dean 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 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 GNI funding. 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 GNI.

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.”

About Wick Communications

Wick Communications is a family-owned local media company based in Sierra Vista, Arizona. It operates newsrooms in 25 markets across 11 states, ranging from Alaska to Louisiana. Its family of publications has been keeping readers informed and connected to their communities for a century.

For more information, contact Digital Audience Editor Reilly Kneedler at [email protected].

About the Cronkite School

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier professional journalism programs and has received international acclaim for its innovative use of the “teaching hospital” model. Rooted in the time-honored values that characterize its namesake — accuracy, responsibility, objectivity, integrity — the school fosters journalistic excellence and ethics in both the classroom and in its 13 professional programs that fully immerse students in the practice of journalism and related fields. Arizona PBS, one of the nation’s largest public television 
stations, is part of Cronkite, making it the largest media outlet operated by a journalism school in the world. 

For more information contact Allison Otu, executive director of marketing and communications for Cronkite and Arizona PBS at [email protected].

About NewsCo/Lab

The News Co/Lab advances digital media literacy through journalism, education and technology. Since launching in November 2017, it has partnered with news organizations and community stakeholders to help people better understand the news and information environment.

About the Google News Initiative

The Google News Initiative (GNI) is a global effort to enable a sustainable, diverse and innovative ecosystem of quality journalism. Through rounds of regional funding, the GNI Innovation Challenges will empower news organizations from around the world to demonstrate new thinking in online journalism, better understand their communities and develop new publishing business models. In turn, Google shares knowledge generated from the projects with the wider industry.