The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Above: Data from a new Knight Foundation report offers an in-depth view into the nonprofit news industry, revealing the significant progress that news organizations have made toward sustainability and the challenges they still face.
The search for sustainable news business models requires good comparative data that allows organizations to benchmark the effectiveness of their work. This kind of information is rare. It takes time to collect and structure, and requires organizations be comfortable with sharing their financial and operational data openly. A Knight Foundation report released today helps fill that gap and illuminates an emerging aspect of the news industry.
“Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Venture Seek Sustainability” offers a detailed look at 18 nonprofit news organizations, and their progress towards sustainability. The report, a follow-up to the 2011 Knight study “Getting Local,” examines the emerging business models of nonprofit news organizations in a transparent way. This time we expanded the number of nonprofit sites included in the research and broadened the study to state and national organizations.
The report reveals significant trends over a three-year period (2010-2012), and provides a view into what has worked and what hasn’t. Importantly, the nonprofit news sector is growing but relying less on funding from foundations, as organizations find more individual donors and cultivate earned revenue from events and corporate sponsors.
However, the prospects for sustainability remain fragile. Organizations have to resist the impulse to recreate the traditional newspaper online, while anticipating and adapting to changes in how individuals consume and share news.
The report offers reference points for news organizations looking for ways to scale and succeed. The data is valuable whether you’re a nonprofit news outlet seeking new revenue sources, a startup thinking about where to focus its internal resources or a for-profit media venture exploring new commercial opportunities. Here are a few ways to use the report to accelerate your work:
The news organizations highlighted in the report range from four-person local operations to 50-strong national newsrooms. See which ones align with what you’re doing the best when you’re looking for helpful comparisons.
The report also points out some useful commonalities that held true no matter the size of the nonprofit news organization. At the back of the study, we detailed traits exhibited by successful organizations that have momentum. Here are some highlights:
We’re grateful for the openness of the 18 nonprofit news organizations examined in “Finding a Foothold.” Their transparency has produced a broad view of emerging news business models that can help others find new ways forward amid the current climate of disruption. Investors, and the public, can learn how others are adopting entrepreneurial models and new innovations to grow—and to sustain their operations. We also hope foundations that support journalism can glean helpful ideas to shape their philanthropy and assess their role in promoting sustainability among nonprofit news organizations.