November 13, 2015

The Poynter Institute reported today that it grew income and reduced expenses in 2014, cutting its operating loss by 35 percent from the previous year, but still ended with a $2.26 million operating deficit.

Revenues were up 22.2 percent year-to-year and expenses down 9.5 percent, according to an institute filing with the Internal Revenue Service. That narrowed the budget gap from $3.48 million in 2013.

With seven weeks remaining in 2015, Poynter President Tim Franklin declined to estimate results for this year but said the operating loss will be considerably less. “We have a lot of momentum and have made tremendous progress in a short amount of time on the path to sustainability,” he said. In 2016, the gap is expected to narrow further.

The financial information is in a so-called Form 990, which non-profits are required to file annually to maintain their tax-exempt status.  The form resembles a tax return but also contains the sort of information found in the earnings reports of public companies.

An important part of 2014’s revenue improvement came from investment income which roughly doubled from $557,000 in 2013 to $1.18 million last year.  That includes stock dividends and gains on assets sold.

For 2015, Poynter will book sales of a plot of land to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg for roughly $6 million and an office building for roughly $700,000, resulting in a surplus for the year.

The 990 also includes balance sheet information and shows Poynter ended the year with $38.2 million in net assets.  More than half of that is the book value — $22.4 million — of stock in the Tampa Bay Times’ parent company, Times Publishing, which Poynter owns.  Another $12.2 million is in real estate holdings including depreciated value of the Poynter building.  The 2014 loss was covered by selling off publicly traded securities.

Franklin became president in 2014, succeeding Karen Dunlap, who retired.  He has overseen an assortment of initiatives to grow revenue — more training contracts with individual companies, more international programs, foundation grants, public events  and renting space in Poynter’s building to local entrepreneurs in an Innovation Lab and to other tenants.

After years of staff reductions including the departure of several faculty members, Poynter in 2015 hired one new faculty member and is currently interviewing candidates for a second position. The Institute also hired a full-time Web developer.

A redesign and upgrades of Poynter Online and Poynter’s e-learning site, News University, are underway.

As the financial fortunes of the newspaper industry have declined, Times Publishing suspended paying dividends to Poynter, which at one point totaled $6 million annually. The Institute has worked to replace that income, at the same time converting many of its seminars to training partnerships with companies like Gannett, National Geographic and Univision rather than relying on media companies and individuals to fill open “public seminars” at Poynter.

When dividends were suspended, Poynter’s board opted not to abruptly slash budget and the level of activity at the Institute, instead covering shortfalls during the present transition by drawing on reserves. With more draconian expense reductions, Franklin said, “we would not be growing revenues now as we are.”

The 990 format requires Poynter to report payments to trustees and include the compensation of those who work at the Times.  The three highest earners are Times CEO and Poynter Chairman Paul Tash ($503,990), vice president Andy Corty ($334,517) and chief financial officer Jana Jones ($296,579).  None of those salaries count as expenses in Poynter’s budget.

At Poynter, Franklin was paid $221,171 last year and Chris Martin, president of Poynter’s Foundation, who resigned at the end of 2014, earned $255,128.  Six senior faculty members — Roy Clark, Butch Ward, Jill Geisler, Al Tompkins, Kenny Irby and Kelly McBride — earned more than $100,000. Geisler resigned her full-time faculty position and became an affiliate in 2015.

For 2016, Franklin said that he expects expansion of the corporate training partnerships — typically focused on building digital journalism and leadership skills — with new clients added and most current ones renewing.

Poynter will host the first of four events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes in March.  It also has an expanding relationship with the State Department’s programs for international journalists.  The 100 winners of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists met at Poynter for two days of training a week ago, and the Institute has also conducted media training for Fulbright Scholars.

“The demand is out there for our services,” Franklin said.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously said Geisler became an adjunct in 2014. In fact, she became an affiliate in 2015.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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