The Chicago Community Trust, a two-time Knight Community Information Challenge winner, has focused its efforts on fostering a healthy news ecosystem of both for-profit and nonprofit news and information providers.
The Trust’s most recent effort is the development of an advertising network of 15 small, local news sites in the Chicago area. These sites are too small to attract the interest of major advertisers. But together, they can offer a digital network with over one million monthly guaranteed impressions.
Ngoan Le, vice president of program for the Trust, said seed funding for the Chicago Independent Ad Network is part of the foundation's larger strategy of helping new sources of local news and information become self-supporting by developing revenue streams such as advertising.
“We would like to contribute to efforts to find new business models as the media world continues to change rapidly,” Le said. “The Trust does not have adequate resources to support all the innovations and interesting work to cover local news. Helping to generate earned-income is a productive use of our limited resources.’’
Le said the Trust hopes the ad network will generate enough revenue to pay for its operating costs as well as to provide an additional source of revenue for the members of the ad network. “We also hope that the individual members of the ad network will improve their content and technical know-how to succeed as an online media as the result of having to meet the standards of the group and also from being able to learn from others in the group,” she said.
The ad network launched Nov. 1 with its first advertiser, Green Choice Bank, according to Mike Fourcher, who manages three local sites in Chicago and is managing the ad network.
“We're well on our way to signing up more for Dec. 1. Building sales from scratch doesn't come easy, and while we've encountered a lot of people who have used up all their 2011 budget, we think January is going to be a good month for us,” Fourcher said.
The Trust has provided $50,000 in direct funding, plus substantial in-kind support for the network’s startup. It may provide additional funds next year, depending on initial results and the resolution of various legal issues. The network expects to reach breakeven in 2012.
- By Michele McLellan
To learn more about nonprofit news sites, read “Getting Local,” which offers a detailed look at some of the country’s leading online local nonprofit news ventures, providing data on how they are generating revenue, engaging users and cultivating donors.