February 8, 2018

A new report released Wednesday offers a guide for journalists and organizations interested in different ways newsrooms are making money from their audiences.

“Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement” digs into various forms of revenue, how they’re different from each other and the role culture plays in creating successful revenue strategies.  

And it's not about the tote bags.

"News membership isn’t about premiums, tote bags, mugs, or local business discounts," the report says. "Readers become members or donors when they want to be part of the larger cause that the news organization represents or when they think it represents something unique in the world. To put it another way, no one ever became a member of a journalism site offering news that feels like a commodity."

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Revenue is something everyone, not just the business side, should be paying attention to if we care about the long-term path to sustainability, said Emily Goligoski, research director for the Membership Puzzle Project and co-author of the report.

The wall between editorial and business was maintained by a strong advertising market where journalists didn’t have to worry about audience, agreed Elizabeth Hansen, a researcher at Tow Center for Digital Journalism, a research fellow at Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the report’s co-author.

“I think it’s very clear now that that model is breaking down.”

The report explores and differentiates between donation models, subscription models and membership models, building off Hansen’s previous research from the Institute for Nonprofit News and Goligoski’s current work at the Membership Puzzle Project.

Both include engagement as one of the keys to creating a successful strategy.

“Becoming an audience-driven — and especially member-driven — newsroom requires a huge culture change for reporters and editors that demands significant leadership,” the report says. “The two-way engagement between publication and audience required to sustain a successful membership strategy can initially feel uncomfortable for those who expect a clear boundary between newsroom staff and audience members. But culture change is possible.”

The report is designed for anyone just getting started with thinking about revenue and audience. You can also find an open glossary and reading list from the report here.

Co-sponsors for the report include Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation. (Knight funds my coverage of local news.)

And the report isn’t meant to stand alone, but rather it’s the first effort in a series meant to help journalists and newsrooms better understand audience revenue.  

You can read the report here, and join or watch an event Friday about the findings.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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