Coincidentally, two very different digital membership organizations — one serving the commercial news sector, the other independent nonprofit media — reported their annual results. They sounded a common theme: Scale obviously matters more and more to prospering these days, but it is also not out of reach for mid-sized and even very small news outlets.
The Institute for Nonprofit News’ impact report for 2021 said the organization is up to 360 members. By INN’s count, their work was republished and redistributed across 6,000 outlets, including many commercial ones. That’s a marker of collaboration that continues to widen the reach of the network, whose members employ roughly 2,700 journalists with budgets totaling an estimated $500 million.
At the Local Media Consortium, which helps local members negotiate tech stack contracts and share ad revenues with national players, the stats were similar. The consortium calculated savings and added revenues of $57 million to its 101 members — a 21% year-to-year increase.
Both organizations are comparatively young, but time moves fast in digital publishing.
When INN launched in 2009, it had just a dozen members. In the pandemic year of 2021 alone, it added 78. Executive director and CEO Sue Cross suggested in an introductory essay to the report that the maturing organization has reached a tipping point, “accelerating INN’s evolution from hundreds of mission-aligned organizations into a mutually supporting media network. And this creates the systems to effectively fund local news at scale.”
The report notes that early on, the new nonprofits were often considered primarily as replacements for shrinking legacy newsrooms and local coverage gone missing. That may still be true to an extent, but “our true value — is in propelling new models and practices of journalism better suited to the needs of our time.”
The report concludes with a claim that the sector has also proven its resiliency: “Over and over again, individual newsrooms and the field as a whole demonstrate their staying power. The data is clear: nonprofit news is not fragile. We are strong and getting stronger.”
The Local Media Consortium deals with issues far less familiar to local journalists — the intricacy of digital ad sales and the specialized technology that supports ad deals.
The purpose may not be totally different, however, CEO Fran Wills told me in an interview: “The more cost and benefit we can generate, the more that allows investment in journalism.”
The consortium was put together in 2013 by consultant Rusty Coats and Chris Hendricks, then chief digital executive of McClatchy (he has since left McClatchy but continues as president of the consortium). It was a relaunch of sort of a cross-selling partnership with Yahoo, which had aspirations (since abandoned) to be a big local ad sales player back in the first decade of the 2000s.
Simplifying somewhat, Wills said, the function of the consortium is to negotiate partnerships for its membership replacing some costly middlemen and providing the leverage of scale.
Currently the two biggest programs, Wills said, involve the Google News Initiative and a new Meta/Facebook effort to create and distribute branded content. But the consortium also might, for instance, negotiate a split on obituary revenue with Legacy.com or contract terms with The Washington Post’s Zeus ad tech framework.
The consortium grew out of its original newspaper base to now include the digital sites of many local broadcast stations, among them large groups like Sinclair, Nexstar and Scripps.
Over at INN, too, the organization has picked up a number of public television and radio stations as it has grown.
I wouldn’t cite either organization as a full-blown antidote to thinned-out local coverage, let alone the news deserts no longer served by any local media. But it is nice to see that some of the infrastructure supporting the remaining big, sprawled out news ecosystem is growing, not shrinking.