Project Oasis is an initiative designed to showcase the location of surviving independent digital news organizations across North America. The project is a partnership between The UNC Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media (UNC-CISLM) an initiative of the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism, The Google News Initiative, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers, and Douglas K. Smith.
In 2018, DesignHammer collaborated with UNC-CISLM to develop the precursor to Project Oasis: US News Deserts, a resource website dedicated to identifying geographical gaps in local news sources across the United States and Canada. Project Oasis, a corresponding initiative designed to showcase the exact opposite: the location of surviving independent digital news organizations across the continent. With a focus on sustainability, the Project Oasis partner organizations were interested in designing a website that would ultimately help locally-owned digital news organizations grow and thrive.
The goal of Project Oasis was to create a publicly accessible industry database of local independent news publications through which peer organizations could identify and contact one another to share useful business practices and apply newfound knowledge to the growth of their own organizations. In addition to this, the site would serve as an online resource for academic researchers and groups interested in funding independently-owned organizations to help them compete with mainstream media. The database needed to be readily filterable, granting users the ability to view lists of organizations that adhered to various qualifying attributes, such as location, communities served, products offered, distribution methods, and editorial strategies, among other criteria.
To accomplish this goal, DesignHammer collaborated with the Project Oasis partners to build a searchable geographic database for independent news publications. To fill the database, the Center contacted over 700 independent news publications across the continent to gain organizational information that was not made publicly available.
Of the 700+ organizations, 273 individual publications responded with enough data to build out a comprehensive profile for each organization. Profiles were still created for the remaining publications but only included publicly available information sourced from the IRS and the organization’s official website.
Drupal 9, the July 2020 release of the free and open-source web content management framework written in PHP was chosen as the Project Oasis CMS. Drupal was selected for a number of reasons, including the ease of importing CSV data of previously acquired and future organizational data to populate and update the dataset. Drupal's Views system also allows for complex data sets to be displayed and filtered in a variety of ways and was utilized in the Project Oasis site to build both the list and map of publications.
Due to the large amount of information that needed to be displayed in the user interface, DesignHammer designed a custom theme for the website in Drupal 9. The look and feel of US News Deserts was referenced for the Project Oasis website design, with additional, sleeker elements added to further modernize the aesthetic.
In August 2020, DesignHammer deployed a “soft release” of the new Project Oasis website to allow for organizations to review the site before it was publicized by the project’s sponsors. The new Drupal 9 website delivered design and functionality that exceeded UNC-CISLM’s expectations.
The site is set for launch in February 2021, at which point analytics will be monitored to ensure the site is receiving anticipated referrals from future press releases, news coverage, and organic search.
After the soft release, 80% of the 273 new organizations that had contributed to their publication profile provided a positive rating in response to a quick survey of how useful they considered the site to be for their organizational research needs.
The Project Oasis website is easy to navigate and empowers users to find the data they want efficiently. We are pleased to see the final product come out polished and modern and are looking forward to this website being the face of the project. This is a highly collaborative initiative, and the design of the website will blend well with the additional resources the partners are building.