November 14, 2014

The Poynter Institute filed its financial statement for 2013 with the Internal Revenue Service Friday. It shows a loss of about $3.5 million for that year. (Here’s Poynter’s press release about the report.)

Poynter has taken a number of steps in 2014 to try to regain its footing as its traditional revenue sources have dwindled — it last received a dividend from its ownership of the Tampa Bay Times in 2010. It hired Tim Franklin as president in February. In May, Franklin released his plan for the institute’s future, which includes more international instruction, custom teaching programs and the sale of some of Poynter’s assets (though not its building, which has taken on six paying tenants, all digital startups, this year).

There has been progress toward these goals, Franklin said in a phone call. “We’re on pace to set a record this year in teaching income, which I’m very excited about,” he said.

Poynter has begun or expanded custom teaching programs with the McClatchy Company, the American Society of News Editors and the E.W. Scripps Company. It also has training partnerships with the CBS local stations group and the Pioneer News Group.

Poynter is in talks with other potential partners and has also seen growth on its e-learning platform, News University, which has developed some initiatives “we think will contribute to revenue,” he said.

As far as asset sales, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has signed a non-binding letter of intent to purchase some of Poynter’s unused land for $6.2 million. An office building Poynter owns in Seminole, Florida, is also on the market — “it’s not part of our core mission to own an office building,” Franklin said.

Proceeds from those sales, should they go through, “will provide the resources we need to keep reinvesting in Poynter and specifically in our programs geared to digital innovation and digital storytelling,” Franklin said.

Poynter also built a foundation in 2013 to help with revenue. Foundation President Chris Martin said that in 2014 her organization has raised nearly $1 million in grants, and other initiatives have drawn private funding. The foundation has also “developed a number of significant relationships — combined with pledges and asks — that will mature in 2015,” she said.

Still, a sizable gap remains between Poynter’s costs and its revenue. Overall costs dropped 4.2 percent from 2012 to 2013, and costs associated with salaries dropped 5 percent.

Program service revenue was up 25 percent in 2013, from $1,259,535 to $1,583,995. But contributions and grants fell 55 percent, a drop that reflects a one-time endowment the Knight Foundation transferred to Poynter in 2012 after the American Press Institute and the NAA Foundation merged. That difference helps explain why 2013 saw a much bigger loss than 2012, when the institute lost $1.7 million.

(Tax law requires Poynter to include the salaries of several employees of adjacent organizations — Tampa Bay Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, treasurer Jana Jones and Florida Trend Publisher Andrew Corty. Poynter does not pay their salaries.)

Poynter’s staffing levels dropped in 2014, Franklin said, and he declined to comment on whether they’d fall further in 2015, as his plans for next year’s budget are not yet complete.

Franklin did say he expects Poynter will show another loss at the end of 2014.

“I will say that we’ve made progress this year in closing the budget gap, and many of the initiatives we’ve put in place will have a full year’s benefit next year,” he said.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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