CJET: Business Essentials and Best Practices

“Sell everything but our integrity”

The Texas Tribune is often held up as a model for other news startups to emulate. And editor Evan Smith is just as often held up as a leader to learn from. Interviewed via Skype at a CJET kickoff event, he urged publishers to define a mission and stick with it, be audacious – think P.T. Barnum – and be clear about what you are and what you are not. His talk inspired many publishers; and felt a bit intimidating to some.

One cited the Evan line highlighted here: “Sell everything but your integrity” as a significant takeaway. It is a new frame to define how to create a sustainable journalism business, but a confrontational one, because it challenges journalists-turned-entrepreneurs to fully embrace their seemingly conflicting missions: make money and do great work.

The tools, tips, leads and insights offered here aim to support publishers everywhere working to build sustainable news businesses.



Investigative News Network Patterson Knight Digital Media Center Knight Foundation

Business Building Blocks: Preparing to succeed in business.

CJET covered a four-day curriculum in two days. The prep work guided participants to consider their publishing work through the lens of a business decision maker. These two simple questionnaires asked them to draft a basic business plan and inventory some current practices. Later, participants used the worksheets to help write a highly focused, goal-oriented 100-day action plan with specific tasks and benchmarks.

Six questions and three charts to align the essential elements of your business.

  • Business Plan

Deceptively simple; designed to introduce strategic thinking.

  • Business Practices

Know Your Revenue Mix: How does your business compare?

These two charts aggregate the baseline financials – expenses and income – of all CJET participants. Because they draw on data from publishers of varying type, size, and purpose, the charts illuminate only the broadest of views. So we asked Janet Coats to put the data in context. Janet draws on extensive experience with The Patterson Foundation’s New Media Initiative, Block by Block business training (Supercamp), CJET and other journalism work through the Coats2Coats consultancy.

CJET publisher expenses in aggregate:

Site Expenses

Click to enlarge.


“The key takeaway is the heavy spending on content relative to other areas, especially sales. To achieve financial sustainability, you need a much more balanced approach, with content and sales/development getting roughly equal slices of your expenses and your attention.”
Janet Coats.

CJET publisher revenue in aggregate:

Site Revenue

Click to enlarge.


“The key takeaway is the heavy reliance on single sources for revenue — ad sales for for-profits, foundations and grants for non-profits. It is important to diversify revenue streams, both as a means of avoiding over-reliance on one single source for your survival and as a means of reaching into different aspects of your community to build support and enthusiasm for your work.” – Janet Coats.

CJET Teachings & Tips: A collection of tools shared at CJET

A handy way to set clear expectations for your nonprofit board.

Track only data useful for making decisions, get more out of what you measure.

  • Managing Media with Metrics | Courtesy USC’s Dana Chinn |

Leveraging social and emotional connections to source community funding.

An easy, essential list of steps for more successful foundation relationships.

  • Grantwriting Dos and Don’ts | Courtesy Irma Simpson, INN development consultant | 

Guidelines to assess and choose tools that may add value to your work.

JA Business-Building Resources: Collected or created to help grow sustainability

Useful and practical tools, ideas and information to build a sustainable news business. From the JA collection of more than 300 cross-network resources, selected for their proven or potential value to publishers, curated to showcase their practical use; the JA blog, which highlights innovation, distills ideas and reports learnings; and JA forums, where the community shares insight, examines assumptions and surfaces risks.




JA Resources to Up Social Return: Building connections and measuring impact

This sampling of tools, conversations and techniques offers specific potential benefits to people in the business of journalism. Drawing on JA curated resources, reports from our blog, and open community forums designed to bring peers together to exchange information and discuss crucial questions.