New report gives nonprofit news organizations a benchmark for progress

Press Release

October 29, 2013

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MIAMI – (Oct. 29, 2013) – A new 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 report, “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” provides data and analysis on 18 nonprofit news organizations between 2010 and 2012.

A follow-up to the 2011 Knight study, “Getting Local: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” the new report takes a deeper look, expanding the number of nonprofit sites included in the research. It also broadens the focus of the study from just local, to state and national organizations.

“While there is no secret recipe for sustainability, some valuable practices are emerging that other players in this evolving field can learn from,” said Michael Maness, vice president for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation. “The report fills a major demand for comparative data on nonprofit news organizations and beyond in a transparent way.”

Using open data on the 18 news outlets as a basis, the report charts how organizations raise and spend money with a focus on audience engagement, revenue generation and organizational capacity, tracking:

·      The site’s ability to raise money and experiment with revenue sources beyond foundation support, including events, syndication, individual donors and sponsorships.

·      Web traffic, social media and the ability to create unique and relevant content that builds lasting connections with audiences;

·      Investments made in editorial and technology tools, as well as marketing and development.

The report gives nonprofit news organizations and funders a reference point for developing new strategies and models. Importantly, it shows that the sector is growing with less reliance on foundation funding and increased interest from individual donors and other revenue sources. However, sustainability is still a problem for many organizations. While spending on news is critical, organizations should not ignore the technology, business and audience engagement factors that are necessary for sustainability, the study says.

“Nonprofit news organizations have made progress —reducing their reliance on foundation funding, building new revenue sources and investing in business development and marketing. Among the clear front-runners are those that are constantly experimenting and challenging assumptions around who their audience is and what they care about,” said Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation vice president for strategy and assessment. “But there is still work to be done. That’s why creating a benchmark from which organizations can see themselves in context and examine their effectiveness is so important.”

“Finding a Foothold” studied local news organizations: City Limits, the Lens, MinnPost, New Haven Independent, Oakland Local, The Rapidian, St. Louis Beacon, Voice of San Diego; state and government news organizations: FCIR, I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS, NJ Spotlight, Texas Tribune, VTDigger, Wisconsin Watch, Wyofile; and national news organizations: Center for Investigative Reporting, New England Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica. Knight conducted the study with support from Community Wealth Partners on the data analysis; additionally, journalist and consultant Michele McLellan completed more than two dozen interviews with leaders of each organization.

To download the report and an illustration, visit www.knightfoundation.org/features/nonprofitnews. Follow the conversation on Twitter with #nonprofitnews.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.  www.knightfoundation.org

CONTACT: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, [email protected]