Nonprofit news models

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How Grist has been able to flourish as a nonprofit news site

This is the fourth of four profiles of journalists at nonprofit news startups.

Chip Giller

Chip Giller

Chip Giller started Grist 16 years ago, when, he says, there was nothing in the world like it. His creation quickly caught on with its snarky environmental news stories, hipster storytelling, and an excellent advice column, “Ask Umbra.” Hundreds and then thousands of readers signed up for Grist’s email newsletter, and then finally, hundreds of thousands found its website: at the beginning of 2015, the site had more than 1.5 million unique visitors per month, according to Quantcast, and another half a million including Twitter and Facebook followers.

Giller wanted Grist to make a difference. He had been an environmentalist since he was a child and says he grew up to be a “very earnest” undergraduate student at Brown. Read more

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Matter-Medium-250

How MATTER succeeded in spite of itself

This is the first of four profiles of journalists at nonprofit news startups – the dreams, the struggles, the lessons learned. An abundance of studies have tried to assess the revenue strategies that can make digital news startups sustainable, typically focusing on successes like The Texas Tribune and the range of possible revenue sources.  Freelancer Naomi Lubick approached the question from the opposite direction as part of her work as a Scripps Environmental Journalism fellow at the University of Colorado over the last academic year.  She spoke to four science and environmental journalists who have experimented with a novel idea and tried to make it work.  Their adventures – and mixed results – are recounted in the four interview/case studies that will be published here this week. Read more

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White House Fence

White House tried to squash fainting-intern story

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. White House edits pool reports: The White House press office sometimes demands changes to pool reports before it “forwards them via e-mail to a database of thousands of recipients, including news outlets, federal agencies and congressional offices,” Paul Farhi reports. “This two-step process enables White House staffers to read the pool reports — and potentially object to them — before press aides send them to recipients.” HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery tells Farhi the White House tried to squash her fainting-intern story. (WP)
  2. Pirates release journalist: Somali pirates released freelancer Michael Scott Moore, CNN reports. Michel Todd of Pacific Standard, for which Moore wrote a weekly column, said the magazine “had been encouraged by the FBI and State Department to (not) write about it because this would hurt his cause.” (CNN)
  3. Layoff season is upon us: The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal laid off 17 people yesterday, according to the Memphis Newspaper Guild.
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OC Register strikes content-sharing deal with news nonprofit

OC Weekly | Voice of OC

The Orange County Register has formed a content-sharing deal with the news nonprofit Voice of OC, OC Weekly Editor Gustavo Arellano reported Monday.

Reached by email Monday, Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr. said Arellano’s account was “accurate… About our syndication deal with OCR.”

Arellano torched the deal, saying Voice of OC “just sold out any indie cred it had built up by becoming [Register owner Aaron] Kushner’s useful idiot.”

But the only winner in all this is Kushner. The Voice of OC loses by entering into an agreement with their competitor, a competitor they have wonderfully exposed as a hater of journalism ethics in the past–wish I could be the fly in the wall in Kushner’s office next time the Voice of OC ever do a story like that, if they ever bother with that beat again.

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Lorie Hearn, the founder, executive director and editor of inewsource, wrote Tuesday for Nieman Report about the challenges that come with starting a nonprofit news site. Investigative reporting is tough, Hearn wrote.

But if you think being an investigative reporter is hard work, try finding the business model to support it. We journalists think we’re above talking about money, let alone asking for it. We’re too self-righteous for that. At least, I thought I was. Well, the cold hard facts about the future of accountability journalism lie in cold hard cash.

The biggest mistake I made in founding a journalism nonprofit was thinking that good work will automatically attract funding.

(Related: How two inewsource reporters uncovered a scandal)

Lorie Hearn, Nieman

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Knight will give $1 million to news nonprofits fund

Investigative News Network

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation expects to give up to $35,000 each to about 30 news nonprofits and public media outlets as part of a $1 million grant to a fund administered by the Investigative News Network.

INN is an umbrella group for news nonprofits that helps such organizations share resources and work toward sustainability. INN will choose the recipients of the grants and manage the “INNovation Fund.” Read more

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News nonprofit starts taking donations in Bitcoin

San Diego news nonprofit inewsource began accepting donations in the online currency Bitcoin Monday. It took the plunge because “a potential donor indicated he’d like to contribute bitcoin,” inewsource Executive Director and Editor Lorie Hearn tells Poynter in an email. “And he did, the equivalent of $205 US.”

According to this list, only a few news organizations accept donations in the currency: Among them, two that say they’re affiliated with the hacking collective Anonymous and Juice Rap News.

Setting up the donation mechanism “was easy,” inewsource reporter Brad Racino, who arranged the method, tells Poynter in an email. He used a site called Coinbase that was free but requires a verified bank account, which receives the donations in cash. “The site generates a code for a bitcoin ‘button’ you can place on a website. Read more

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Merger between St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis Public Radio gets closer

St. Louis Beacon

University of Missouri curators will likely approve the merger of St. Louis Public Radio, which the university owns, with the nonprofit news site St. Louis Beacon, Dale Singer reports. The combined organization, which has no name yet, will “cover local news online, on the air, on social media and on any new technologies that come up,” Singer writes. St. Louis Public Radio General Manager Tim Eby will manage the combined operation. Employees of the new organization will work for the University of Missouri.

The combined news organization will also provide opportunities for student work in “urban journalism,” Singer writes. Dean Mills, the dean of the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo., tells Singer “this will probably lead UMSL to engage a little more in what we call professional journalism education.” Read more

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Cover art from Knight Foundation's report on nonprofit news startups. (Knight Foundation)

Knight Foundation support for nonprofit news startups shifts focus to growth, sustainability

The Knight Foundation has released a detailed new report today arguing that well-run nonprofit news sites can weather their growing pains and operate at break-even or better.

The report itself has a wealth of statistics on 18 selected sites, all operating for at least three years, but I found the subtext even more interesting.

To those venturing to launch nonprofit sites, the good news is that the turn from start-up funding to new and diversified sources of revenue can be done.

To potential foundation funders, the message is that these sites do important work and have a realistic chance to be in business and expanding in three to five years after initial grants have run out.

Though the sites were chosen as examples of good practice, they together showed revenue growth of 30 percent over the three-year period, 2010-2012.  Read more

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Nonprofit journalism sites are proving to be healthy but slow to scale

A recent Pew Research Center/Knight Foundation roundtable conference on the future of nonprofit journalism had the feeling of an annual physical. After three hours of poking and probing, the sector was found to be slowly getting stronger but with some serious lingering issues.

On the good news half of the examination, sites aimed at doing serious journalism, often investigative, are growing in number. Pew counted 174 in a study released this June.  And some potential heavyweight funders, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, were represented at the meeting.

Another plus is that many of the nonprofit startups are finding partners in legacy media willing to publish their reports to a wider audience. Many ProPublica stories have a national or regional publishing partner, and the Tampa Bay Times’ recent expose of America’s worst charities was a joint project with the Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN. Read more

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