Michael Stoll persists in vision to create a public-radio-style newspaper despite lack of funds

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

Michael Stoll

Michael Stoll

Michael Stoll started his nonprofit, noncommercial investigative news venture from scratch in 2008. Stoll was an experienced reporter living in the Bay Area during the painful shrinking and transformations of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner. He had reported for established newspapers and at the nonprofit, “Grade the News,” which was affiliated with Stanford University.

After teaching for two years at San Jose State University and the University of San Francisco, he “started gathering together some folks to talk about a public radio–style newspaper, to do some interesting things with an interesting model.”

His idea was to create a local news source with hard-hitting stories, which financially pinched local newspapers might no longer have the time and space to cover. Read more


Most online local news sites make less than $50,000 a year

Tow-Knight Center

Tow-Knight-Startups-400Two-thirds of new local online news sites make $100,000 or less a year, with more than half generating $50,000 or less, according to a survey released Monday of 94 sites nationwide.

Eighty publishers representing 94 sites responded to a survey by Michele’s List, a database produced with the Tow-Knight Center of Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

In sum, the reality seems pretty straightforward: most are generating more revenue than they have been previously but are “quite small both in revenue and reach and remain highly dependent on local display advertising.”

The survey of a rising but fragile media niche was conducted between Feb. 28 and April 29.

“Often founded by journalists who have no business or sales experience, these ventures struggle to develop revenue and establish a stable business.”

The preamble to the results underscores how “most of the sites are tiny and they are potentially vulnerable because they rely heavily on a single revenue source—advertising” while also depending heavily on volunteers for content. Read more


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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Bit by bit: How a mystery pixel artist helped change newsroom culture

On the morning of Monday, February 9, the staff of HLN Digital arrived in their Atlanta newsroom and discovered a large pixilated mural of Waldo made out of dozens of white, red, black and yellow Post-it Notes. The stripe-clad cartoon character smiled back at them from the whiteboard.

Three days later, another Post-it creation appeared on the newsroom’s whiteboard. There loomed a blue TARDIS, the iconic time machine from “Doctor Who.”

“We were blown away,” said Karyn Lu. “The creations were amazing, and the artist behind them was a total mystery.”


(Photo courtesy Karyn Lu/@klu1)

Lu is the director of product strategy and partnerships at HLN, CNN’s sister network that’s reinventing itself as a TV station built on social media. She’s part of HLN’s product/partnerships team, which operates similar to a startup within the larger network. Read more

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

From left, Doug Jackson of Shared Vision Marketing, Jeremy Caplan from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, and Harry Lin with IMDb, give advice on startups,

Media entrepreneurs: Five myths can stop you before you start up

Let’s begin with this sobering statistic: nine out of 10 startups that get funded will fail.

Reliable and comparable numbers for news-related startups aren’t available, but it’s a good guess that any journalist thinking of venturing out on his or her own faces huge odds.

Three experts urged attendees at an Online News Association session Thursday to avoid five myths that can derail any news enterprise before it gains traction.

Myth #1: I’ll make money through advertising!

Harry Lin, head of business development for the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), an Amazon subsidiary, said the amount of traffic required for a website to pay the bills through advertising is “ridiculous.” More often than not, he said, startup sites end up running network ads, and after the network and ad agencies take their cuts, the sites are left with 25 cents per 1,000 page views. Read more


Bloomberg News’ parent will invest in startups

The New York Times | BuzzFeed

Bloomberg Beta, a $75 million venture capital fund, “is the first time that Bloomberg L.P. will reap profits from direct investments in some of the technology companies that its news operation covers,” Nicole Perlroth reports in The New York Times.

It is already an awkward time for the company, which is under fire because its reporters used Bloomberg’s financial terminals to snoop on companies they covered, including Goldman Sachs, and the fund raises questions on journalism ethics.

Read more

How to navigate the challenges of sustaining a startup news site

It seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up, a chance for a young online startup to pounce on a news niche that has proven popular across the country but was virtually abandoned by one city’s legacy media.

All across the United States, community newspapers and local websites alike seek readers by covering high school sports. In theory that makes a lot of sense, partly because it’s not just the players who want to read about their games, but parents and friends as well. And in many areas without a professional sports franchise, even people without a connection to the schools avidly follow local teams.

But in San Francisco, three-year-old online startup San Fran Preps recently shut down after finding local sports to be popular but too economically difficult to cover there. Read more


Homicide Watch faces uncertain future, established news beats as databases

Homicide Watch | Kickstarter | Nieman Lab
Homicide Watch, the news startup that tracks homicide cases in Washington, D.C., through data and reporting, is taking a break.

The wife-husband team that founded it, Laura and Chris Amico, are moving to Massachusetts next week for Laura’s one-year Nieman fellowship at Harvard. The site may find some new life through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign that would pay interns to staff it.

Either way, the project has made its mark. Read more


Rafat Ali: Media builds a brand, data builds the revenue

Rafat Ali — who built paidContent, sold paidContent, took two years off to travel and said he did not want to go back to beating his head against the collapsing wall of journalism — is back in journalism.

But as you might expect from someone who spent years puzzling through media innovation, Ali is bringing some fresh ideas to his new project.

“Intelligence,” not just news

The new venture, Skift, describes itself as a “travel intelligence media company that offers news, insight, data, tools and services to the travel industry and the very large community of business travelers.”

“News,” yes, but also data, tools and services. That’s not the typical media company portfolio.

Skift promises travel industry “intelligence,” beyond news articles.

Ali talks eagerly of data on local tourism, airport passengers, airlines, hotels and more — most of which is held in obscure government repositories. Read more

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