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Loyola University New Orleans Student Wins Google Innovation Grant

By Loyola University on Thu, 04/01/2021 - 12:51

(New Orleans, La. – April 1, 2021) Loyola University New Orleans College of Business senior Valeria Ali, in collaboration with Jambalaya Deportiva Corporation, is among the most recent recipients of a Google Innovation Grant. Ali received $73,865 as part of the Google News Initiative’s $300M commitment to help journalism thrive in the digital age by supporting projects that drive digital innovation and develop new business models. 

GNI’s latest Innovation Challenge (North America) focuses on projects that generate growth and diversification of revenue for local media who elevate underrepresented audiences and promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within their journalism. Ali partnered with Jambalaya News Louisiana, a local media outlet reporting and interpreting information for the Spanish-speaking community since 2004, to develop Al Día. Al Día is a new SMS system that allows readers in two of the most densely populated Spanish-speaking, Latino, immigrant areas in Louisiana - Orleans and Jefferson Parishes - to receive instant messages on local and national breaking news, stories, events, and services in Spanish, with the ability to message questions directly to team members and receive responses in real time. Subscribers can select what information they would like to receive, with topics ranging from weather updates on the go, to school board news, to sports updates, and more. 

In their proposal, Brenda Murphy, who is CEO of Jambalaya News Louisiana, Ali, and the Al Día team explained: 

“The importance of local news in Spanish often does not align with how easily the Latino Immigrant can find it and understand it. Jambalaya Deportiva Corporation’s audience accesses Facebook at significantly higher rates based on our analytics than any other internet/social platform; thus, it causes local news to get lost in the user's social Facebook timeline updates. Levelling out the communication field in the state by offering a service for Spanish-speaking Latino immigrants to be well-informed means meeting them where they are.” 

The team also recognized how straightforward access to news and information proved especially important as consumers require frequent updates on closures, phased reopening plans, and testing and vaccination sites during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As a student at Loyola, Ali says a 2019 study abroad experience in Barcelona, Spain, further invigorated her world-view perspective in business endeavors. Ali also credits her College of Business professors and coursework in Entrepreneurship and Marketing completed concurrently as she navigated the grant application process as invaluable to her growing business’ success. 

“They gave me practical tools and were great encouragers,” she says. “I was able to grapple with the skills and practices they taught in class and apply them directly to Al Día.”

Ali, who is majoring in Marketing with a Communications minor, was first introduced to Jambalaya News Louisiana when she interned with the company in Spring, 2020. When she launched her own business, Imagen Marketing Agency, in the summer of 2020, Jambalaya News immediately came onboard as her first major client. 

“My role was to increase profits and build brand awareness,” Ali says. 

The role also included market research, and it was during this research that Ali came across the Google News Initiative opportunity, as she and Jambalaya News launched their second round of funding for local journalism. Immediately recognizing the parallels between their mission statements, Ali sat down with Jambalaya’s owners to present the grant and brainstorm potential projects. 

“They believe in local journalism, and I thought, ‘This is exactly in-line with Jambalaya’s mission and vision,’” she says. “They understand that the economic climate of journalism is changing. It’s no longer traditional print, it’s digital, and for local journalism, it’s hard to adjust if they don’t have the funds. Their goal with this grant is to encourage local journalism rooms to create ideas that are digital, yet diversify the company’s revenue.” 

In the late fall of 2020, Ali presented the Al Día campaign to Google virtually from the Loyola campus, and just a month later, the team received the news from Google that Al Día was amongst the grant recipients. 

"I know the power journalism has on empowering communities with the information they need for a better life," Ali says. Al Dia will launch this spring. “Thanks to Google we have received over $70K in funding and I'm proud to be leading it today.”