Defender CEO Sonny Messiah Jiles featured in Google News Initiative Ad
Defender Network publisher and CEO, Sonceria "Sonny" Messiah Jiles in Google News Initiative ad.

Defender publisher and CEO Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah Jiles is featured in the latest PR campaign promoting the Google News Initiative. The Google News Initiative is Google’s effort to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age.

Last year, the Defender Network was selected as a Google News Intiative praticipant. The project engaged in by the Defender Network focuses on increasing audience engagement and generating revenue by combining its unique relationship with the Black and Hispanic communities, enhancing rich content/coverage and aligning talented journalists.

“The transformation is built on virtual events, digital programs in a variety of formats, and targeted newsletters,” shared Messiah Jiles. “The project includes: a Newspack -powered website creating a flexible, responsive content hub; tools to expand audience reach and deepen engagement with sponsors/advertisers; resources to encourage community engagement through audience participation; and a marketing campaign promoting digital transformation.”

Speaking on the solutions sought via the project, Messiah Jiles stated, “Confronting the declining print industry, the audience shift in information access to digital, the limitations of systemic racism and the challenges of COVID-19, this project opens the doors of opportunity to create a new business model that addresses all of these issues.

“Houston Defender Network will tackle these challenges by creating new digital products and services that transform the way it connects and engages with stakeholders (audience and advertisers).”

Below is the article where Messiah Jiles and other selected participants were featured (it can be found at

A Challenge to understand the needs of local readers

by Ludovic Blecher, Head of Innovation, Google News Initiative

How can local news publishers create the next generation of news products without knowing what their readers need? And how can they flourish without understanding the needs of the larger majority of community residents who do not read their work?

These are crucial questions, and we want to encourage local publishers to explore them in greater depth. Starting today, we are launching the third Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge in North America to help local publishers to think about new ways to understand, enhance and serve the needs of their communities.

We’re inviting publishers to submit ideas for projects that will generate research approaches to better understand these local audiences in order to rethink product and overall strategy. 

Since 2019, Google News Initiative Innovation Challenges have supported 67 projects in Canada and the U.S. with over $11 million in funding. Past recipients include projects to tackle big challenges in local news and in diversity, equity and inclusion. California Independent Television Service (ITVS) producedan interactive survey tool designed to allow viewers to share feedback and interact in real time with fellow audience members. Save the Black Press, a project from Black Voice News, is building an open site to allow news organizations to access datasets about the Black population to produce more powerful stories and generate higher engagement with a more informed public.

Applications are open from now until August 26. Established local publishers, online-only players, news startups, academics, publisher collaborations and local industry associations are all eligible to apply. Projects will be evaluated against five criteria: 

  1. Research methodology
  2. The innovative nature of the approach to the research
  3. The potential for creating more diversity, equity and inclusion
  4. The publisher plans in using the research to communicate the value brought by their journalism
  5. The plan for sharing lessons with both the community and the wider industry 

We encourage applicants to think about collaborative approaches to their projects, and employ an iterative “test and learn” approach that leads to redefined priorities and product strategy. 

Selected projects will be eligible to receive up to $200,000, not to exceed 70% of the total project cost. Please see the website for full details and application process.

How to apply

Applications, in English or French, must be made online via our website and are open until Monday, August 26 at 23:59 GMT. We will also be holding an online town hall on July 1st at 9:00 a.m. Pacific time with a live presentation, including the opportunity to ask questions. (Please note that Google does not take any equity or IP in any projects or submissions.) 

We are looking forward to seeing new ideas, projects and big bets to come this round. For more information about the Challenge, visit