The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Apr 15, 2013

The Texas Tribune: building a model for sustainable local journalism

Posted by Marie Gilot

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Above: The Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. Photo credit: The Texas Tribune

Less than three years after launch, The Texas Tribune has become one of the most successful experiments in nonprofit online news. Knight Foundation supported its initial launch as part of an initiative to develop new nonprofit news models. Today we announced an additional $1.5 million investment to develop this model further. We crafted the grant to build on the Tribune’s success, contribute to its long-term sustainability and to extend its approaches and lessons more broadly to other news organizations.

Our grant funds will enable the Tribune to build a website with a how-to curriculum for sustainability for non-profit news websites. The Trib has always been generous with sharing its expertise with others, (to wit: T-Squared, the Trib’s blog on its inner workings), but this will allow it to do so more holistically. The grant funds will also enable the Tribune to hire business analysts to explore new revenue models and develop a clearer picture of best practices.

What is innovative about the Texas Tribune business plan is the organization’s balanced allocation of resources. The Trib’s payroll, for instance, is roughly one-third content, one-third business and one-third technology. This model has allowed the nonprofit to diversify its revenue stream away from grants-only and into corporate sponsorships and signature events. The results are clear. In 2012, the Tribune had more than 5.7 million individual visitors to its award-winning enterprise reporting site and interactive databases. Perhaps more importantly, the Tribune broke even last year.

This is a very different picture than the one painted by most other non-profit online newspapers that have emerged in the past five years to fill the vacuum of local news. Many of these outfits struggle to find steady revenue streams and sustain daily business operations. With this project, we hope the lessons learned by Texas Tribune can help others and contribute to a more sustainable future for local journalism.

By Marie Gilot, media innovation associate at Knight Foundation

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