Articles by Michele McLellan

  • Article

    Syndication is paying off for the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting

    November 7, 2013 by Michele McLellan

    Syndication is paying off for the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting


    Photo credit: The Center for Investigative Reporting on Facebook

    The Center for Investigative Reporting is turning content distribution partners into paying customers.

    Like many nonprofit investigative news organizations, the center has offered free or low-cost content to distribution partners, such as newspapers, to get its work in front of as many people as possible.

    But that’s not a formula for long-term financial sustainability. Now that the California-based center has established itself, it’s looking to increase revenue from syndication.

     “We are trying to figure out our next phase. Our strategy is that we charge for content,” said Robert Rosenthal, the center’s executive director.

    Syndication was a small but fast-growing revenue stream in “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” Knight Foundation’s recently released study of 18 nonprofit news organizations. Eleven reported revenue from syndication, which also offers news organizations wide exposure for their content and brand.


    "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability"

    The full data for the Center for Investigative Reporting is also available online

    "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability"

    The full data for Texas Tribune is also available online

    "News nonprofits must balance capacity, growth of new revenue"

    "Survey provides insight into who reads nonprofit NJ Spotlight"

    "The addict audience"

    "The Texas two-step: Journalism and events for a successful partnership at the Tribune"

    "Membership increases revenue, community at nonprofit Voice of San Diego"

    The growth in the Center for Investigative Reporting’s revenue from this source stood out. The center reported total revenue from syndication of $403,000 in 2012, up from $47,000 two years earlier. However, it was a small share of the center’s 2012 revenue of more than $12 million.

    But Rosenthal believes it has significant potential. In 2013, the center hopes to raise about $700,000 from syndication, or 6 to 7 percent of its total budget.

    Rosenthal said syndication arrangements with the center’s network of 13 California newspaper and broadcast partners will bring in more than $250,000 in 2013. The California network has been the nonprofit’s core but Rosenthal said the center wants to attract more national news organizations as syndication partners.

    National partners include Univision, the Spanish-language broadcast television network and an emerging relationship with CNN.

    “Our model for distribution has changed in the past couple of years as we've both grown and expanded our editorial reach and production cycle,” Rosenthal said. “Some stories are distributed widely to multiple news organizations and others may be an exclusive.” Similarly, the center might produce video for broadcast outlets, such as PBS NewsHour, or it may lend “reporting muscle” to a partner such as CNN, which produces its own video.

    In 2013 the Center for Investigative Reporting produced two high-profile investigations with CNN. One, developed with the Tampa Bay Times, exposed charity fraud nationally. Another exposed fraud in taxpayer-funded drug rehabilitation in California. Rosenthal hopes to develop the CNN partnership and produce more revenue.

    “They paid us what I consider a small fee relative to the amount of time we spent and the reporting we did in the co-production,” he said. “For our next round of talks with them we will discuss all of this. I believe some of this is proving proof of concept. So much of this, from my perspective, is building trust and credibility.”

  • Article

    Funders find good information promotes social change

    May 1, 2013 by Michele McLellan

    Funders find good information promotes social change

    The following blog post is written by Michele McLellan, a Knight Community Information Circuit Rider. Photo credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress, via Charlottesville Tomorrow. The current Knight Community Information Challenge is open for applications through July 1. 

    Today, Knight Foundation is starting to accept applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provides community foundations with matching funds for local news and information projects.

    Knight launched the challenge as traditional media began to contract, as a way to engage locally-focused funders to step in and help fill information gaps.

    Deadline June 1, 2013



    Over the past six years, though, winners have found that providing access to good information helps promote social change.

    In fact, nearly half of the 50 challenge winners surveyed recently reported their efforts have brought about policy changes, according to research by FSG. The projects  include:

    • Charlottesville Tomorrow, a grantee of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, which provided in-depth coverage of community water supply plan that added chloramines to drinking water.  The coverage by the online nonprofit news site led to record turnout of citizens at public meetings and ultimately to a decision by elected officials not to use the additive.
    • Wyofile, a nonprofit news site in Wyoming that exposed the dangers of trucking hazardous waste over a scenic mountain highway.  Officials banned the trucking. Wyofile is supported by the  Lander Community Foundation and the Wyoming Community Foundation.
    • “Report and Map It,”  supported by the California Community Foundation, a grassroots campaign to document geographically unequal practices governing car seizures of unlicensed drivers – often undocumented residents. The city of Los Angeles ultimately changed its policy.

    Foundations also said their efforts  increased media attention to issues important to them. For example, 62 percent said their support resulted in reporting that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Fifty-three percent said the work increased reporting on the issues by other media.

  • Article

    Minnesota contest receives Council on Foundations’ recognition

    April 11, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    A Community Information Challenge winner, the Minnesota Community Foundation, has been named a Silver award winner for excellence in communications by the 2011 Wilmer Shields Rich Awards Program.

    Sponsored by the Council on Foundations, the awards program recognizes effective communication efforts to increase public awareness of foundations and corporate giving programs. Minnesota Community Foundation received the award in the category of public policy campaigns for Minnesota Idea Open.

    The award was presented Monday during the Council on Foundations’ Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

    Minnesota Idea Open is a fun and engaging way for Minnesotans to come together and tackle tough issues facing their state. Anyone can find and share innovative ideas that inspire them to act. In its first challenge—for which it was recognized with the...

  • Article

    Minnesota Idea Open launches challenge to address state water problems

    August 30, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    MN Idea Open, an innovative contest that solicits solutions to state problems from the general public, has opened its second round. This year, the issue is water quality and the Open has selected three finalists from more than 100 entries.

  • Article

    Chicago Community Trust assesses local news landscape

    September 23, 2010 by Michele McLellan

    Chicago Community Trust assesses local news landscape

    The Chicago Community Trust has conducted surveys of about 800 local residents and about 250 community leaders to get a better idea about whether Chicagoans believe their news and information needs are being met.

    The survey found that internet access is widespread and, in general, 87 percent of Chicagoans feel adequately or well informed. Libraries are playing a significant role in meeting information needs, according to the survey.

    Despite the positives in general, those surveyed cited these shortcomings in the news ecosystem:

  • Article

    Thinking about a community news start up? Check out presentations from our boot camp for new projects

    October 12, 2010 by Michele McLellan

    Knight Digital Media Center hosted a boot camp in Chicago Oct. 3-7 for the latest winners of the Knight Community Information Challenge. You can find some of the presentations here. The live blog is archived here.

  • Article

    In Detroit, young people are covering “Our Life in the D”

    January 12, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    In Detroit, young people are covering “Our Life in the D”

    A youth media project sponsored by The Skillman Foundation in Detroit has launched its site with a name change from KidSpeakNeighborhood News to Our Life in the D.






    Cynthia Burton

    The new name came from the youths themselves, says Cynthia Burton of Michigan’s Children, which is running the program.

    The participants “did not like the word “kids” in KidSpeak Neighborhood News, so we invited them to come up with a new name,” Burton, the project director, said. “The group came up with more than 40. We then went around the table and asked them to choose three that they liked and talk a bit about why the liked them.

    “This was a really wonderful conversation that revealed fun, loving, sincere, inventive, worried, caring, Detroit-loving teenagers. I was surprised by how honest they were in their assessment of each name and how serious they undertook the mission to rename themselves.”

  • Article

    Write for Arkansas project featured on national journalism list

    March 10, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    Write for Arkansas is the latest Challenge winner featured on a new database of online news sites being compiled by the Columbia Journalism Review.

    The project of the Arkansas Community Foundation has funded about a dozen reporters to work for small newspapers around the state. Their work is published by the local news organization and on a central site so that Arkansas residents can see news from all over the state.

    Other KCIC projects featured on the list include: MinnPost, NJ Spotlight, the Rocky Mountain News Network, The Rapidian, Voice of San Diego, and Wyofile.

  • Article

    Philadelphia’s The Notebook gets national award for education blogs

    March 23, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    The Notebook, an online source for news about schools and education in Philadelphia, has won second prize in the community blogging category of the Education Writers Association National Education Reporting Awards.

    The winning entry was a collection of 10 blog posts by regular Notebook contributors and guest contributors.

    "We chose a variety of pieces that had a high level of reader engagement and page traffic," Web editor Erika Owens wrote. "One focus was posts about Corrective Reading and Math because reader comments prompted the coverage, readers contributed to the coverage through guest blogs, and after the dialogue on the Notebook site, a group testified" at school hearings.

    "It's exciting to receive this acknowledgment of our work and the many contributors who make our blog possible," Owens said.

    The Notebook site, a digital community version of an established print newspaper, has steadily increased its traffic and community engagement since it was established. The site, a Community Information Challenge Winner in the first round, also is funded by the William Penn Foundation.

  • Article

    Getting Started: Tips for funders on journalism and media grant making

    April 1, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    Getting Started: Tips for funders on journalism and media grant making

    How can funders get started both thinking about and actually investing in news and information projects? A new publication by Michele McLellan and Eric Newton - and published by William Penn Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation - offers tips.

  • Article

    Chicago Community Trust study: Links foster healthy online information flows

    June 30, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    A new report for The Chicago Community Trust analyzes news flows in Chicago and provides a thought-provoking analysis of the city's emerging news ecosystem and the roles of key information providers and sharers. It also shows the potential power of Web savvy community news start ups and nontraditional information providers as a new news environment takes shape.

    In the national, often web-ideology-driven, debate about value on the Web, news aggregators often take a big hit as parasites on organizations doing the expensive work of actually producing original content. Any aggregator who takes advantage - by stealing significant chunks of material from other sites and/or by failing to credit and link back to the original - deserve our disdain and more. After all, content producers (many of whom are professional journalists) need a paycheck just like the rest of us.

    But the aggregators who play fair deserve another look. At least on the ground on the local news start up scene, where I spend most of my time, aggregators have a valuable role to play in an increasingly diffuse news ecosystem. In a world where news is abundant but traditional bundles are dissolving, smart curation (which we used to call editing) and thoughtful selection and outbound linking is a service that stands alongside creating content. Right now, it is vital both to information consumers as well as producers, including many journalists who are desperately trying to get their work in front of people now that corporate-owned news organizations have shed them by the thousands.

    Nowhere is this more apparent than in my home base, Chicago, where feisty news start ups like Gapers Block, Windy Citizen and dozens of others, frequently link to the best content on other, lesser known sites.

    As Andrew Huff, editor and publisher of Gapers Block told me this week in an e-mail:

    "Having grown out of the weblog community rather than the traditional media community, we've had a philosophy from the beginning that linking is the coin of the realm on the web. We link to other websites because that's what makes the Internet work -- if you can't trust your readers to come back to you after...

  • Article

    Getting Local II: Terms of engagement

    October 24, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    Getting Local II: Terms of engagement

    The newspaper on the Web is not a sustainable model, and nonprofit news start ups are placing more and more emphasis on engaging their users with content and conversation, and perhaps, as members or donors. A new report from the Knight Foundation details emerging engagement practices at several of the larger nonprofit news sites.

    Along with trying to create to revenue streams, larger nonprofit news sites are experimenting with engagement as well.

    A new report, “Getting Local: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” explores the role that userengagement plays in their sustainability strategies.

  • Article

    Four questions foundations might ask journalism start ups when they ask for grants

    October 25, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    "Women in Prison" video from nonprofit new site Oklahoma Watch 

    Foundations are playing a significant and helpful role in fostering new models for local news. But in addition to money, a little tough love may be in order when looking at prospective journalism grantees. If the grant money doesn’t flow forever, how can a foundation tell if a news organization has legs - or how can foundation help nudge the organization onto a more sustainable path? Here are four key issues to consider:

    Here are a few questions to ask before cutting a check.

  • Article

    Project inviting residents to explore core values and beliefs launches

    October 26, 2011 by Michele McLellan

    Project inviting residents to explore core values and beliefs launches

    This Tallahassee Believes, a project that invites residents to explore the core values and beliefs that shape their lives, is now being featured by This I Believe International.

    The Tallahassee project was just launched by the Village Square, a Knight Community Information Challenge winner supported by the Community Foundation of North Florida.

  • Article

    Foundations that focus on a place are eligible for the Knight Community Information Challenge

    January 25, 2012 by Michele McLellan

    The 2011 Knight Community Information Challenge Winners

    The Knight Community Information Challenge is open to all community foundations in North America. It is also open to geographically-oriented foundations that have a place-based focus similar to a community foundation.

    That’s because place-based foundations are in the best position to meet the core needs of their communities, including critical news and information needs.