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.  And for 2012, 14 of the 18 operated at break-even or better.

Mayur Patel, Knight vice president for strategy and assessment, told me in a phone interview that the foundation’s own support of the sector has changed recently from new launches to a focus on developing existing sites. That is significant since Knight is the biggest foundation supporting journalism and a thought leader for others — though it has also long worked to expand the base of foundations interested in the future of news.

Knight was a substantial funder of startups like Minnpost, Voice of San Diego and ProPublica.  It escaped my notice, but in the last 18 months it gave $1.9 million to ProPublica to “expand its industry-leading work in data-driven news applications” and $1.5 million to Texas Tribune for several projects including “a how-to curriculum” for other news sites.

Patel said he anticipates the foundation will do “an additional round of funding” next year with similar goals. Knight, he said, will be making grants to additional sites “that have shown momentum” and “smaller scale support of particular practices.”

While there may be few sites that can build to the scale of ProPublica, Texas Tribune or Center for Investigative Reporting (all $5-million-a-year-plus operations), Patel said “we are not too far (with the Texas Tribune model) from imagining what could replicated in other states if the capital is there.”  (And smaller states might not need as big an organization).

This report, like one Knight did two years ago, and a Pew Research Center report earlier this year identifies two main elements of success. Sites that are flourishing are now drawing contributions from individuals and smaller local foundations, have made producing events a profit center and get some revenue from advertising and sponsorships.

Diverse sources of revenue is one characteristic of nonprofit news sites that are surviving. (Knight Foundation)


The other common thread is that they use some staff positions for development and other business functions or, in the case of smaller sites, devote a share of the time of staffers to those activities. Sites focused solely on  journalism — like the defunct Chicago News Collective and its successor the Chicago News Cooperative — tend to run out of steam after a few years.

The first section of the report, directed both to nonprofit practitioners and funders, is about “Social Value Creation.” That reflects how much the foundation world is accustomed to measures of impact for the service and advocacy groups it typically supports.  As Charles Lewis and Hilary Niles of American University explored in a paper earlier this year, those kinds of measures do not come naturally to the hard-charging investigative reporters and editors who populate the nonprofit sites.

But the report echoes Lewis and Niles in saying that the organizations need to understand their audience and document both traffic and engagement as well as documenting the impact of their reporting.

A concluding section lays out a daunting list of eight recommended practices such as:

  • Attack your assumptions always.
  • Provide services, don’t just publish.
  • Bolster the brand by building partnerships.
  • Move to where your audience is.

The last of these essentially says that the sites need to be responsive to social media and available on mobile devices like smart phones. The technology and product design to get that done is proving challenging for much larger legacy organizations, in my view, and may be out of reach for all but the biggest of the nonprofits. But Knight seems to be directing some of its effort to shareable models smaller organizations can simply adopt.

This latest report nails down the basics of a survival manual for news nonprofits, though the sector is still young enough that other issues will emerge over the next several years.  I also think the big picture is rounded out  by an earlier study by J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer (also Knight supported), who argues that many small sites thrive on the volunteered time of a dedicated core group and can last indefinitely without significant revenue if that enthusiasm holds up.

I have heard grumblings in recent weeks that Pew and Knight may be over-focused on studies of the nonprofits, being nonprofits themselves, and overestimate their potential impact. But I did not find that in talking with Patel.

The nonprofit sites, together, “are not nearly as big as (they) need to be,” he said. “When you look at the amount of money still coming out of legacy media businesses, no way it replaces that.” 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.

“Which is why major media are in big, big trouble,” Lin said.

But some sponsorship models work, said Jeremy Caplan, Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism director of education. One example, the New Haven Independent, draws sponsors for its hometown news because people believe in what the website is doing, he said.

News entrepreneurs can also barter or sell services to small businesses that may need better content, video or photos for their own sites. Another approach is native advertising, which Lin noted is actually a form of advertorial. (This method has been used successfully by BuzzFeed.)

Myth #2: People want what I’m selling!

Doug Jackson, principal at Shared Vision Marketing, said what entrepreneurs believe is irrelevant and they owe it to themselves to test whether a demand exists for their business.

“Do your research on the front end and it will save you a lot of pain on the back end,” Jackson said.

Myth #3: People will work for free!

Your supporters may start out working without pay, only to turn out to be unreliable and fail to meet deadlines.

“What are you going to do — fire them?” Lin asked.

There are sites that offer free content, but the quality is sketchy, Lin warned. Sites such as Crowdspring offer another approach, Caplan said: An entrepreneur can name his or her price for design or writing services, get back completed work and then choose the professional to work with.

Myth #4: No one has ever done this before!

Lin said it’s been his experience that someone — and sometimes many someones — has thought of your idea first.

But competitors can also serve as potential partners, said Caplan. And, he added, it’s useful to know that competitors have validated a concept’s viability.

Quora, a community site for sharing knowledge, offers examples of startup founders recounting how they approached their businesses and discussing their successes and failures, Caplan said, adding that media entrepreneurs can learn which pitfalls to avoid by checking out Quora’s many discussion topics.

Myth #5: This’ll be fun! I’ll balance work and life!

The reality is entrepreneurs can expect to work all day and all week, Lin said, and the financial rewards may be long in coming.

“If you are going to do your own startup, be prepared to be very poor for seven years,” he said, suggesting that journalists uncomfortable with that “go work for the man.”

Jackson agreed. “I think the reality is you work all the time,” he said, but added that while that may be the worst of times, it can also be the best of times as entrepreneurs pursue their passion.

Caplan said starting a new enterprise needn’t be an all-or-nothing pursuit. Some journalists work at a job and build their enterprise on the side. “Yes, it is hard,” he said, but building a successful startup is a credential no one can take away from you.

The ONA session is a part of the NewsU Startup Loft, a series of workshops aimed at journalists planning the jump into entrepreneurship.

Related: 13 ways to get your journalism project crowdfunded | Six business lessons from TMD’s early demise | Debunking 5 Myths of Entrepreneurial Journalism 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.

What went wrong? What are other news organizations doing that makes them sustainable when other outfits fail?

The way things were supposed to go

Jeremy Balan/Photo by Tom Prete

Three years ago, Jeremy Balan looked at San Francisco’s prep sports scene and realized it was an open field.

The San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle both once covered local sports, but that was many years ago. The modern-day Examiner’s sports coverage consists largely of wire copy and columns, with maybe a brief freelance piece if a local team made it to the playoffs. The Chronicle has a blog about high school sports, but it covers a broad geographical area and San Francisco stories are few. And there weren’t any blogs or online news outlets of note picking up the slack.

It was during a citywide high-school football semifinal game that Balan first noticed how empty the San Francisco prep sports niche really was. While at the game as an Examiner freelancer, Balan said in an interview with Poynter that he realized he was the only person covering it.

A student wrapping up his journalism degree at San Francisco State University, Balan thought he had hit on a great opportunity. If he could pull it off, he’d be able to put his journalism training to work covering sports he loved, and make a sufficiently decent living that he could afford to stay in San Francisco.

He needed money to do it, but Balan said he knew he was no ad salesman. He wanted to concentrate on the content, not sell ads or go to potential donors asking for money to support a product he hadn’t yet built. So he concentrated on covering games, building a crew of writers and photographers, and going beyond the fields and courts to report on larger issues affecting schools and athletes.

Balan said that in 2011, he began the process of incorporating San Fran Preps as a nonprofit organization and raised about $60,000, primarily from a handful of large donors including some parents of student athletes.

It was enough to pay his freelancers, and to pay himself for running the operation. And San Fran Preps was turning into a popular source for serious local sports news, with stories often generating dozens of comments from readers.

“It never was a blog,” Balan said. “It was like a local daily newspaper covering prep sports.”

Things were looking up.

What went wrong

Balan’s fundraising for the newly incorporated nonprofit San Fran Preps was enough to keep the site operating and growing for a year. His plan was to look for grants from major journalism organizations to supplement that funding, and to guard against a drop in donations.

But his applications to grantmakers didn’t get any traction. Equally as bad, local donations fell. By early 2013, it was clear that there wouldn’t be enough money coming in for Balan to keep operating San Fran Preps, and in February he pulled the plug and now plans to move back to Southern California.

When Balan talks about why things didn’t work out, frustration bubbles up in his voice: frustration with an environment in which people have become used to free content, and even publications that know how much it costs to produce quality news aren’t paying enough to actually do it.

“Everybody likes the ideas,” Balan said. “Everybody wants it for a freelance fee.”

But when Balan acknowledges that the challenge also was bigger than he thought it would be, he sounds more weary than frustrated.

“I could have tried harder. I didn’t hustle for the money (over the past year),” he said. “I did two full years of hustling to keep the website alive. I just wanted to be a reporter.”

What’s working for others

San Fran Preps had a niche with little competition, a passionate founder and official nonprofit status (which can sometimes be difficult to get). Many potential founders of independent online news organizations perceive the nonprofit route as the best path to sustainability. But is it?

Scott Lewis, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Voice of San Diego, has no doubt that it is. The reason comes down to a diversity of funding sources open to nonprofits.

“You need myriad sources of revenue,” Lewis said. “What we call ‘revenue promiscuity’ in our little world.”

The Voice of San Diego’s nonprofit operation is built on a membership model, but Lewis said the Voice also gets funding from foundations, corporate sponsorships, benefit events and a partnership with the local NBC affiliate.

The Tucson Sentinel‘s support comes from a different blend of sources, mostly local business sponsors with a handful of events and virtually no foundation grants. Editor and publisher Dylan Smith, who’s also chairman of the Local Independent Online News Publishers trade group, says the Sentinel’s nonprofit status frees the organization from having to deliver big returns for investors.

That doesn’t mean local online news publishers can’t pay the bills with their publications, though.

“The reason we went as a nonprofit is we figured nobody’s going to get rich running a local website any time soon,” Smith said. “We did think there would be a decent living in it.”

Still, some for-profit online news publishers believe the nonprofit structure brings too many hoops to jump through and requires publishers to focus on a mission that’s just too confining.

“A nonprofit has to have a really narrow mission in most cases,” said Tracy Record, editor and co-publisher of the long-running West Seattle Blog.

Record says that in her view, nonprofit funders like to support work in particular subjects that might not fit with the needs or interests of a local publication’s readers.

“Maybe that’s a great topic area, but that’s maybe not where your goal was,” she told me.

Beyond the matter of methodology is the question of whether some sites start out with the cards stacked against them, regardless of how they’re structured.

In the case of San Fran Preps, both Smith and Record question whether the level of community enthusiasm for local sports found in many smaller towns is present in a city such as San Francisco.

“The first thing I would say to anybody [starting a local news organization] is be sure you’re solving a problem or filling a need,” Record said.

Lessons learned

Record, Smith and Lewis have different views about what makes a sustainable online news organization. Here’s their advice for startups searching for sustainability.


  • Make sure your publication fills a gap that’s important to other people, not just something that interests you.
  • When applying for funding from national grantmaking organizations, don’t just ask them to pay for local news. Show them they’ll be funding work that other publications can draw upon to improve their own coverage or operations.
  • Always operate within your means. Don’t hire people or buy things based on money you expect to raise later.


  • Constantly promote your publication and explain its value to the community it serves.
  • It’s unlikely any publication can get by with only one kind of funding.
  • Be careful of limiting yourself when setting a fee or price for something, including subscriptions. If you ask people for a set amount, that’s all they’re likely to give you.


  • You don’t have to take a vow of poverty, but you probably won’t make a ton of money.
  • Find the structure and blend of funding sources that works for you. Grants and events may work in one place, and events and advertising in another.
  • If you think you’re going to be able to just do the journalism, think again. Solid business skills are vital. “It’s not just about writing the cool stories, it’s about keeping the books straight.”

Do you work for a startup news site? Share your advice/experience with us in the comments section.  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. It just needs to be centralized and linked to unlock its value.

“We are planning to build a very large repository of the publicly available travel industry information, and then build services on top of it. And we feel like that’s where the real opportunity for us lies,” Ali told me by phone last week. “Media is the way to build the brand; data is the way to build the revenue in the long term.”

You can think of it broadly as a Politico model — a free news website like for people who work in or closely follow politics, plus a premium paid service like Politico Pro. Or perhaps Bloomberg and Reuters are a closer comparison, both of which make ample money selling financial data and services, with news content as a supplement.

Access to Skift’s travel data can someday be sold to businesses who can profit from the intelligence, Ali said. And possibly some consumer-focused products will emerge from it as well.

But until the data strategy ripens, Skift is for now essentially a media project. And Ali has an interesting plan for that portion of the project as well.

The four legs

He has developed what he calls a “four-legged stool” content-production model. “This is a smart, quick way to scale in content — to have all these four things together — and it requires a mix of technology plus humans,” he said.

The legs are:

1. Aggregation: Topic pages, like this one for American Airlines, automatically compile relevant news from other sources around the Web.

2. Curation: This is aggregation with a human touch. Curated articles are selected by an editor, summarized and also include a box labeled “Skift Take” – the editor’s own explanation of why the story matters.

Skift Take puts an original spin on curated content.

For both aggregation and curation, Skift is using a platform called PublishThis, which manages the full chain — from discovering relevant content through RSS, Twitter and Web crawling, enabling the editor to select and arrange the desired pieces for curation, to feeding the content into WordPress.

3. Licensed content: Skift sublicenses travel-related stories from publishers including AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and others through NewsCred.

“For us it’s an easy way — it’s a flat fee, one license,” Ali said. “We also have access to the image libraries from Getty and Reuters and such, which is huge, because that individually can cost quite a lot.”

But why pay to license some content, when you already aggregate and curate other items for free? “There’s an SEO reason for it, which is if you’re just curating, then Google and other search engines don’t like you so much,” Ali said. “These are original stories that we have licensed, so Google likes us better that way.”

4. Original content: Skift will add its own original enterprise reporting on travel issues, including covering startup companies disrupting the travel industry and doing data-driven reporting based on its data systems. The daily flow of industry news will be represented by the aggregation, curation and licensed content.

Right now all original reporting falls to News Editor Dennis Schaal, one of three full-time employees. Eventually there will be more staff writers, but don’t expect to see a “huge ‘newsroom,’ ” Ali said. “The idea here is to build the brand through media, scale through data.” Read more


Tips for journalists preparing to launch a startup site

When you’re getting a journalism startup off the ground, you face a number of decision points. Who do you partner with? How do you bring in revenue? How do you get the word out about your project? We’ll discuss these and other key questions facing entrepreneurial journalists in a live chat with paidContent founder Rafat Ali, who is now working on his new startup, Skift.

In a live chat, Ali answered questions on specific decisions, including:

  • Fundraising strategies
  • Whether to provide original content on your site, vs. curating and aggregating
  • Hiring staff

You can replay the chat below for tips and insights.

Interested in learning more about generating revenue for startups? Consider applying for Poynter’s Revenue Camp for Entrepreneurial Journalists.

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >Tips for journalists on preparing to launch a startup site</a>

Read more

The opportunities and challenges of Meporter, a new citizen journalism mobile app

A mobile app called Meporter aims to help citizen journalists report on events and breaking news.

Meporter launched Tuesday afternoon at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York City. The app is purposefully simple: Witnesses use it to report news events, and others use it to browse nearby reports.

“We like to call it the local, mobile news desk,” founder and CEO Andy Leff told me in a phone interview. Users can “report, update and read local news as it’s happening from their phones.”

A couple things about Meporter’s approach stand out: The company is offering to license these reports to news organizations, and it is offering real rewards and possibly even payments to the users who create content.

But it faces similar challenges as other apps that depend on a network of users to create and view content: demonstrating its usefulness and attaining a critical mass of users.

Meporter is only available on the iPhone right now, but an Android version should be released in two or three months, Leff said.

Opportunities for news orgs and citizen journalists

Leff said some news organizations have approached him to license the reports filed via Meporter. He is negotiating those arrangements.

This is the screen where users file their reports.

A reliable system for gathering and sharing eyewitness reports could be valuable to news organizations seeking to increase neighborhood-level news despite shrinking newsroom staffs. A service like Meporter is not going to provide coverage of city hall politics or school board policies, but it can work well for images and descriptions of house fires or videos and reviews from a concert.

And for the people who submit those reports, Meporter offers tangible rewards for participation.

Like Foursquare and many other social services, users earn badges for certain milestones and accomplishments (posting five, 10 or 25 stories, for example). Meporter calls its badges “press passes.”

But unlike most other services, those badges are actually worth something. Meporter seeks companies to sponsor badges for certain accomplishments; users who earn those badges can claim rewards from the company.

For example, Leff said, Forbes magazine sponsors a press pass for people who post at least 10 stories in the “business” category. Those users can then claim a free six-month subscription to Forbes. Meporter is pitching local sports teams to sponsor press passes for users who post a certain number of sports stories, Leff said.

In addition, Leff said that if Meporter does create profitable deals with news organizations, it will split that revenue with the users who created the reports. That’s a notable commitment in a time of much debate over the treatment of volunteer contributors to for-profit content sites.

Similar to other content sharing services, Meporter users retain the rights for any content they post, according to the terms of service. But they do grant a very broad license to the company to use the content however it wants and to syndicate that content to any other company.

User base and differentiation among the challenges

The map lets you browse for reports near your current location.

The biggest question is whether Meporter will succeed in developing a large enough network of people creating and viewing reports. If no one is posting in your area, you probably won’t be reading often. And if no one is reading, users won’t be motivated to post. The app showed me a handful of posts near my location in Arlington, Va., though they were posted by Leff, who lives in the area.

The app allows users to easily forward their posts to Twitter or Facebook, which could help it gain awareness in the early stages. That kind of Twitter integration helped the photo-sharing app Instagram reach 4.5 million users in just seven months.

The accuracy of users’ Meporter posts will be a concern for traditional news organizations. Meporter logs the location of the phone so that people can’t claim to be someplace they’re not.  Readers can also see how many stories someone has posted before and browse those stories to evaluate his reliability.

One thing Meporter will have to do is differentiate itself from other apps in this space.

National media have had their eye on citizen journalism for a while. Users of CNN’s smart phone apps can submit reports with its iReport feature, but those reports are far more varied in topics and not aimed at local events. The Associated Press app has a “send to AP” tool, but those reports aren’t public. CBS has an Eye Mobile app that was released in 2008, but it hasn’t been updated since and is aimed at local.

Other startups may pose some competition. One called Intersect lets users post and browse stories by the time and place they occurred; Intersect has partnered with The Washington Post in the past. A not-yet-released app called Tackable will encourage sharing of local breaking news photos, at first in California.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is for Meporter to stand apart from Twitter, where people are conditioned to share breaking news and photos. (Of course, Meporter users can publish their reports quickly to their Twitter accounts, so it’s not an either-or situation.)

Leff gave a few reasons why Meporter should emerge as a better starting point for local news than Twitter:

  • Single-purpose: Twitter is a communication platform for anything: news, products, personal updates, jokes and memes. Meporter will focus exclusively on local news, making it a better place to post and find that content, Leff said.
  • Geolocation: Twitter geolocates only a fraction of tweets, and even those have questionable accuracy. Meporter will pin down an address or GPS location for each event and will filter browsing to items within a couple miles of your location.
  • Categorization: Meporter posts are assigned to topical categories (such as business, crime, entertainment, health, nightlife and sports), making it easy for readers to filter by their interests. Twitter has no such capability other than keyword searches and hashtags.

Whether that’s enough to make Meporter a hit, we’ll have to see. But it’s worth keeping an eye on.

As smartphones end up in the pockets of most people in the near future (Nielsen predicts by the end of 2011), you can pretty much count on an eyewitness with a smartphone at most news scenes. Some system must emerge to facilitate the sharing of their photos, videos and reports. Perhaps Meporter will be that system.

Here’s a short video showing the service:

Read more


We Media NYC cranks up a checklist for entrepreneurs and their ventures

The day was almost done by the time judge Bill Weiss described what he liked about the two ventures awarded $25,000 each in Wednesday’s pitch competition at We Media NYC.

He said the panel of judges picked Pando Projects and Stable Renters because, among other things, they look like they’ll be able to:

  • Transform intention into action;
  • Leverage a dynamic “that’s already out there”;
  • Gain enough traction that, eventually, they’ll scale up to what he termed “a reasonable size”;
  • Make a real difference in their ventures with the $25,000 prize money.

More generally, he encouraged all entrepreneurs in the room to pay more attention to the outcomes they hope to achieve, to think internationally and to see if they can build operations that are lean enough to be called “asset-light.”

I believe this is the fourth We Media conference I’ve attended, and some of Weiss’ comments echoed advice that he and others offered at the close of the pitch session back in 2007.

Interestingly, despite intriguing pitches for such locally-rooted projects as FastCast and Neighborhood Pages, Wednesday’s discussions yielded little progress on what Knight Foundation CEO Albert Ibargüen described as an urgent problem at the 2009 gathering: the disconnect between journalism and geography.

The day was packed with useful tips on other fronts, though, and I’ve used Storify to organize tweets around four main topics:

  • Becoming an entrepreneur
  • Creating a venture
  • Pitching a venture
  • Convening entrepreneurs

Read more


Edmiston Describes Business Model for Nomad Mobile Magazines

Mark Edmiston, former Newsweek president and a media investment banker for nearly two decades, has taken aim on being first to market with a family of new, weekly magazines for mobile devices.
The first of Edmiston’s Nomad publications is set to debut later this fall. Earlier reports have mentioned three titles to begin with, but in a phone interview this week, Edmiston told me that there are more than a dozen in the works.
It’s a truism of digital evolution that sharply defined verticals have become hot while many general interest news publications are on the rocks. Edmiston’s venture follows that principle with a vengeance.
The first three of Nomad’s mobile launches will be Real Eats, with an emphasis on the sustainable food movement; Wave Lines, about recreational surfing; and Wide Screen, aiming to fill the vacant space on movies left when Premiere folded in 2007.
By the end of the year, Edmiston plans a fourth title on viral video. And he has identified four more concepts for early 2011: personal finance, wine (especially expensive vs. affordable alternatives), losing weight and taking care of your dog. Another six or eight ideas “are in a holding pattern,” he said, but news, as well as general sports or business, are not on his radar.
Nomad has hired a first batch of editors and contributors. Prominent designer Roger Black will oversee the look of the magazines, which will configure differently for tablets and smart phones.
I’m not here to predict roaring success for Nomad. Edmiston’s own description envisions both a subscription concept and an advertising strategy that are untested in the two formats, both in their commercial infancy.
Still, given Edmiston’s long experience looking at media business models good and bad, I had a hunch that he would have one for Nomad that was thoroughly thought out. Here it is, topic by topic, with comparisons to print magazine launches.
CONTENT: As the titles above suggest, the topics are narrowly focused. Where there are existing publications in categories like food, wine and surfing, Nomad is trying to carve out a fresh angle. Besides being recognizably magazines, an especially graceful match to iPads and other tablets, they will share a common type face and look. They are being with built with digital add-ons, especially video and photo galleries. “You get the story and pictures of a Mexican restaurant,” Edmiston explained, “and a video of how the bartender mixes a margarita.”
Though audience numbers will matter to advertisers, there can be a trade-off between more modest totals versus strong targeting — the same principle that works so well for specialized cable TV networks.
PRICING STRATEGY: Later this fall, the first magazines will debut as a free app, allowing readers to sample each. After a month, readers will be asked to pay $6 per 90 days per magazine or $24 a year.
CIRCULATION BUILDING AND RETENTION: One of the monster costs of traditional magazine launches is a huge direct mail blitz, followed soon after with an expensive series of renewal letters. Edmiston plans no direct mail, relying instead on the free sample and a torrent of social media promotion. Each editor and contributor will promote “their own brand” (together with Nomad) with tweets and Facebook postings.
PAYING EDITORIAL STAFF: From the start, 35 percent of subscription revenue will go to incentive pay for editors and writers, a structure typical for ad sales in old media but not for the editorial side. Avoiding the tyranny of pay per page view, the editor of a given publication gets 5 percent and decides how to distribute the other 30 percent among full-time staff and contributors.
Though not a stated part of Nomad’s plan, the multi-title strategy allows for quickly shutting down those that do not take off, as many online publications do with their lineup of blogs.
PARTNERS: Another digital-age truism is that you can’t do it all on your own. Success turns on picking the right partners on the right financial terms. While many media developers have complained that getting Apple’s approval for an app is an oblique and frustrating process like getting into an Ivy League college, Edmiston reports the reverse experience.
“Apple came to us early on and asked how they could help,” he said. That gives him hope that Nomad will come to terms with Apple on a subscription split or other fee arrangement for hosting, and that, if successful, the Nomad group could figure in a second wave of iPad promotional material.
The magazines will be delivered by a new Web-based technology, Treesaver, which will allow it to be accessed via any browser on any device. That means old-fashioned guys like me can view it on our desktop should we choose.

It also should correct a defect my colleague Steve Myers pointed out to me in first generation iPad magazine editions — many are painfully slow to download because they move as photo files of whole pages. A Nomad spokesman told me that in a recent test a prototype downloaded to an iPhone in 45 seconds and to an iPad in 90 seconds.

ADVERTISING: Edmiston became the third CEO I have interviewed recently to concede that lucrative mobile advertising formats “are very much a work in progress.” How to make an ad work, especially on the smaller smart phone screen “is a problem that hasn’t yet been solved.”
But Nomad will have a few things going for it. On the tablet, Edmiston said, the reader encounters ads in roughly the same way as full-pages in print magazines. You see them turning the page at the end of an article, look and linger for a while if interested, or flip quickly past if not. “It’s not intrusive,” like Web scroll-overs and drop downs, he said; “the user will have control.”
Also the initial New York Times article on Nomad reported that it will offer single-advertiser sponsorship of issues and that the Treesaver execs claim their platform will “support a richer advertiser experience.”
None of that translates to robust advertising cash flow from the get go, but the plans do sound promising. And Nomad is avoiding the trap of many a failed digital start-up — seeking big audience with free access and counting on advertising to carry the whole revenue load.
NO PRINT VERSION: A host of Web-based launches from newspaper hyperlocal sites to Politico have found important advertising revenue by “reverse publishing” a print edition. Barry Diller said recently that with merger talks with Newsweek dead he hopes to create a print extension of The Daily Beast. Edmiston told me that is not in the cards for Nomad. The expense of printing and mailing a short-run magazine in timely fashion around the country would be prohibitive.
COSTS: I didn’t talk specifics with Edmiston, but the savings compared to conventional print magazines are enormous — no printing, paper and mailing costs, greatly reduced production expense, and so on.
The final question is whether the Nomad titles will be of high quality and engaging. Right now, there is no way to tell since prototypes have not been released for public consumption and will not be until the “edition zero” versions in the free app introductory offer.
As for me, I’ll probably pass on surfing, personal finance and sustainable food. I’m a maybe on wine and losing weight (both interests of mine but conflicting). However, I will be watching with eager anticipation early next year for what Edmiston and his Nomad collaborators have to tell me about taking care of our family’s four aging pooches. Read more

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