In the wake of the dramatic disruption in the news industry over the past decade, several nonprofit news ventures have sprouted to fill the void left in local news and reporting. Knight Foundation has invested in many of these nonprofit news organizations, seeking to promote stronger practices and ultimately the sustainability of these organizations.
This marks the third installment in a series of reports produced by Knight Foundation since 2011 tracking the progress of nonprofit news sites as they strive for sustainability. The first report, “Getting Local: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” produced in 2011, focused on eight nonprofit news organizations: The Bay Citizen, Chi-Town Daily News, Crosscut, MinnPost, New Haven Independent, St. Louis Beacon, The Texas Tribune and the Voice of San Diego. Today, some of these sites are thriving, some have merged with others and some have closed their doors. When we began studying the field of nonprofit news organizations, sustainability of operations was unquestionably the leading concern for the field.
In 2013, Knight released “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” which examined a larger cohort of 18 nonprofit news organizations. The report found much more stability among the organizations, as many had secured a footing in generating revenue and building audience.
This report builds on the prior analyses by continuing to benchmark revenue, expenses and audience metrics and to identify emerging best practices. The report analyzes trends among 20 local, state and regional nonprofit news organizations. It also incorporates insights from interviews with leaders of a few additional nonprofit news organizations that have a predominantly national scope. Many, though not all, of the organizations included in the study have been funded by Knight Foundation.
The revenue for nonprofit news organizations increased by an average of 73 percent between 2011 and 2013. In 2012, revenue grew by an average of 30 percent; however median revenue was only 7 percent suggesting year-over-year revenue for half the sites was either flat or declining.
The most growth in earned income has occurred through sponsorships and in-person events. Though advertising is the earned income source utilized by the most nonprofit news organizations, advertising revenue was flat from 2011 to 2013.
Spending remains highly concentrated in editorial expenses, though as organizations grow in size they appear to invest more in marketing and technology.
This report is based on data collected from a cohort of 20 nonproﬁt news organizations about their mission, Web traffic, revenue and expenditures. Researcher Kate Marshall Dole led the data collection efforts and report development. Community Wealth Partners, a social sector consultancy and evaluation firm, performed the data analysis.
Findings are organized in three sections:
The table below outlines news ventures included in the study. The organizations fall into two geographic groupings: local organizations, which primarily serve cities and towns, and state and regional organizations, which largely focus on major investigative projects, state government, politics and policy (some cover daily statehouse news, while others produce less frequent investigative reports). Several analyses in the report are segmented by the geographic focus of the organizations as well as their budget size and age.
|Charlottesville Tomorrow||2005||Charlottesville, VA||4||$237,000|
|City Limits||1976||New York, NY||3||$465,000|
|inewsource||2009||San Diego, CA||4||$590,000|
|The Lens||2009||New Orleans, LA||9||$855,000|
|New Haven Independent||2005||New Haven, CT||6||$530,000|
|Oakland Local||2009||Oakland, CA||2||$261,000|
|Philadelphia Public School Notebook||1994||Philadelphia, PA||7||$845,000|
|The Rapidian||2009||Grand Rapids, MI||3||$34,000|
|Voice of OC||2009||Orange County, CA||5||$572,000|
|Voice of San Diego||2005||San Diego, CA||11||$1,323,000|
|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting||2010||Florida||2||$147,000|
|Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting||2009||Midwest||1||$140,000|
|New England Center for Investigative Reporting||2009||New England||3||$616,000|
|NJ Spotlight||2010||New Jersey||9||$909,000|
|The Texas Tribune||2009||Texas||42||$7,055,000|
Note: The report also captures insights from interviews and data collected from five additional organizations (Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity, Chalkbeat, ProPublica and St. Louis Public Radio). Their national and/or multi-market geographic scope along with their vastly larger size made these sites imperfect fits for benchmarking metrics data with others, but insights from their work are incorporated.