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Investigative News Network Report: Critical Strategies for Growing a Nonprofit Newsroom

April 6, 2012 in Craft, Distribution, Resources, Revenue

This report is directed at the Investigative News Network membership and its supporters. It is intended to provide explicit strategic and tactical advice for growing earned revenue streams from audience development and paid distribution for the purpose of diversifying funding. It will also explain how those activities contribute to the overall operating health and sustainability of nonprofit investigative news organizations.

This work should be iterative; consider it a 1.0 release. As the movement continues to mature, these basic frameworks and assumptions will continue to evolve and best practices, solid performance measures, and realistic operating assumptions will codify.

We hope that this research will have broader interest outside INN and the foundations that support it, including members of the public and the growing diaspora of journalists leaving established news organizations that may be contemplating starting their own independent nonprofit news organizations.

What Will You Find?

  • The Landscape: An overview of market conditions that catapulted the nonprofit investigative news movement into existence. Many of these trends suggest a great deal of opportunity for nimble investigative journalism shops; however, the challenges of building economies of scale and managing multiple, fragile distribution channels and funding sources remain persistent.
  • Planning a Nonprofit News Organization: What are your mission, strategy and organizational archetypes? What kinds of journalism will you do and what impact do you want to have? How does your mission shape your product, distribution, and organizational and operating strategies (products, people and technology)? What will it take? Is it feasible?
  • Engaging Your Audience/Community: What is your target audience? Where will you reach it and how will you prove your impact? This paper will take a deep dive for INN membership on the fundamental questions regarding:
    • Audience Development: How should INN members go about conceiving and developing their own audience or strategy for having a site based on traffic vs. impact, etc.?
    • Distribution: How should INN members think about distribution? What does a partnership look like, and how should you negotiate one? How can you be compensated? Who are the best partners based on your goals?
  • Paths to Sustainability: What does success look like? How does your organization stay nimble and entrepreneurial, while at the same time maturing its operations? How will you grow earned revenues, chart a course to sustainability, and lessen your dependence on philanthropic support over time?
  • Conclusions: What does the future hold for nonprofit investigative journalism? We offer some suggestions and thoughts on the road ahead.
  • Appendix, Bibliography, Figures and Resources: Background material on this report, interviews, reference materials and the authors.”

Source: Investigative News Network

Guide to the IRS Decision-Making Process for Journalism and Publishing Non-profits

April 6, 2012 in Policy, Resources, Revenue

In order to avoid the difficulty that for-profit news organizations can face with capitalization and profitability, many startup news outlets have elected to form as non-profit corporations. The business plan for such organizations normally depends on obtaining tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, so that they can avoid payment of corporate tax and receive tax-deductible donations from foundations and individuals (among other significant benefits).

The IRS is the United States government agency charged with determining whether applicants qualify for an exemption from taxation at the federal level. The IRS applies the Internal Revenue Code as it is written by the U.S. Congress; although the IRS is granted substantial discretion to interpret the law, it is not empowered to deviate from the language of the law. In that regard, it is important to understand that Section 501(c)(3) contains no tax exemptions that are specifically intended to benefit journalism organizations. Put another way, the fact that an organization is intended to benefit the public by sharing newsworthy information is not by itself sufficient to obtain Section 501(c)(3) status. Rather, the IRS applies a complex set of federal laws, agency regulations and internal guidelines to determine whether an applicant meets the statutory definition of a tax-exempt organization.

While there have been controversial decisions by the IRS in particular cases, it is critical to understand that the IRS’s primary duty with respect to these applications is to protect the public fisc by ensuring that only organizations that meet criteria enacted by the United States Congress are granted a 501(c)(3) exemption. Although the IRS has some discretion in applying these criteria, it does not have the authority to recognize broad new categories of tax-exempt organizations, such as news outlets.

Until and unless there is action in Congress to facilitate tax exemptions for journalism non-profits, news organizations seeking 501(c)(3) status must learn how to structure their operations to meet the existing standards applied by the IRS. To that end, this guide is intended to provide practical information regarding the standards that the IRS applies in determining whether to grant federal tax-exempt status to a non-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3).” Source: Citizen Media Law Project

Collaboration Central: Your Guide to Working Together in the Digital Age

March 26, 2012 in Community, Distribution, Experiments, Resources

We have a culture as journalists to fight our competition for scoops, to get there first, to beat everyone else. But with the devastating cuts that have hit traditional news organizations, combined with the power of new technologies, more journalists are finding strength in numbers — working together to cover more ground, tell better stories, and extend those stories onto multiple platforms in compelling ways…

Collaboration is a matter of survival for many journalistic organizations struggling to find a business model in the age of the Internet. The surge of non-profit journalism outlets has been a proving ground for collaboration, and as the Texas Tribune’s CEO Evan Smith told me late last year:

“We’re going to either hang separately or survive together.”

In Texas-speak, that means news orgs need to stay together if they want to live another day. Collaboration Central [offers a] roadmap to that very survival, with case studies on how others have handled collaborations, lessons learned, and what’s gone right (and wrong). We’ve already built up coverage of the topic over the past couple years, largely about how public media outlets have collaborated with each other and with their communities…” Source: MediaShift Blog

Easy to use index: Find emerging practices, publisher techniques and revenue forum how-to tips

March 21, 2012 in Blog, Community, Distribution, Revenue

Journalism Accelerator

Publishers taking part in the recent JA forums on increasing revenue to news sites created a dynamic conversation. And since it was on JA’s forum platform designed with a shelf life, all that shared knowledge is still available for you. Both threads – on local and on niche news sites – generated around 300 comments, with nearly 50 participants over the couple day run. The threads are well worth a read. Here we have organized and indexed much of the conversation to surface the richness of these ideas, insights and hard earned experience so it’s easy for you to peruse by topic.

Read what you need now; come back when you are looking for something else. And remember, one of the greatest resources here is the people who were involved. Just click on anyone’s name to find out more about that person, including how to connect.

The aim of our double-header forum was to create a record of some of the knowledge that news publishers have built up, many working several years in a disrupted market. The focus: how to make money in the new world of news. We divided the two-day conversation into two streams, local news and niche news sites. If any consensus emerged, it is this: Know your audience first. Then figure out which of the many possible sources of revenue works to engage them. Read the rest of this entry →

Part 1: Emerging practices from revenue forum bundle local and niche publisher secrets for success

March 21, 2012 in Blog, Community, Distribution, Revenue

Emerging practices across revenue streams

Sustainable Journalism Forum -- Visit Page for Day 2

Check out some of the participants who joined in to share their take. The sum of the parts offered in this emerging practices module surfacing over two days of top notch conversation.

Click on a headline to see the comment in context of the full conversation. Want to see more comments from a particular participant, see a person’s website, or follow them on Twitter? Each name links you to that person’s JA profile, with background info, expertise and ways to connect.

Also check out How-tos of Business Basics, culled from the same two-day forum, Philosophical Discussions in the thread and Quoteable Moments for a chuckle or a moment of inspiration.

Revenue streams topic index

Advertising: Beyond the basics

Mix ads with other
We pursue (1) Advertising – it’s the gateway for small business (2) Sponsorships – medium companies and organizations can sponsor entire content channels such as Environment; (3) Ancillary business services, principally photography and websites (two things we’re already doing to publish the news site). Key insight: one revenue stream alone will not support your hyperlocal. – Hal Goodtree, Cary Citizen Read the rest of this entry →

Part 2: How-tos from revenue forum bundle local and niche publisher tactics for sustainability

March 21, 2012 in Blog, Community, Distribution, Revenue

Sustainable Journalism Forum -- Visit page for day 1

Check out some of the participants who joined in to share their take. The sum of the parts offered in this how-to module surfacing over two days of top notch conversation.

How-tos of basic business practices

Does managing a sales staff stretch your comfort zone? What are all the different products you offer? How much do you pay for paper clips? The content here distilled from the recent JA forum on increasing revenue, where publishers running local and niche news sites shared what they’ve learned about being small business owners.

Click on a headline to see the comment in context of the full conversation. Want to see more comments from a particular participant, see a person’s website, or follow them on Twitter? Each name links you to that person’s JA profile, with background info, expertise and ways to connect.

You might also enjoy Emerging Practices around a range of revenue options from advertising to underwriting. Philosophical Discussions surfaces deep thinking in the thread and Quoteable Moments offers smart one liners capturing some of the sentiments of publishing in this disruptive time.

How-tos topic index

Business models | Tracking demographics | Finding good freelancers | Doing or managing sales | Staying sane | Saving money | Selling new ideas

Part 3: Memorable quotes from revenue forum reveal perspective and promise

March 21, 2012 in Blog, Community, Distribution, Revenue

Quotable Moments

Quick takes, capturing earned insight from publishers day-to-day discoveries shared in the JA’s two-day forum on increasing revenue. Wise quotes from these experienced folks, to inspire a conversation or words worthy of taping on your office wall. Want to respond? Click on the first few words to read the full comment in context, patiently allowing the page to render and deliver you in line, on point.

To free the conversation up to evolve over time, the forums remain open, so you can add your thoughts to the comment thread as the topics tackled continue to unfold. Or if you would rather go direct to a dialogue. Find background and ways to connect with any of these publishers. Just click on a name and jump to that person’s JA profile. You might also want to check out Emerging Practices around a range of revenue-accekerating options from advertising to underwriting, How-Tos of Basic Business Practices, or Philosophical Discussions, all distilled out of the two-day JA revenue forum. Read the rest of this entry →

JA sustainability forum deconstructed: Publishers dish revenue models, tactics and cautions

March 15, 2012 in Blog, Community, Revenue

Journalism AcceleratorYou’re starting a news site to fill a community need. Or you’ve been running one for years; now you want to stabilize income, maybe expand. The recent double-header JA forum on increasing revenue to news sites aimed to capture and share the invaluable running-a-business know-how that news publishers create through their work every day.

The two-day conversation discussed first the needs of local, then of niche news sites. Here we distill both rich comment threads to showcase publisher experiences and emerging best business practices in three key areas: partnerships, advertising, and other sources of revenue.

A hat tip to Cary Citizen publisher Hal Goodtree for this pointed forum takeaway: “One revenue stream alone will not support your hyperlocal.” Seems obvious, maybe. But how do you get to seven different revenue streams, like Oakland Local? Or develop a reputation for training that pays your investigative reporting bills? Or use social media consulting to bring in ad revenue?

A recent survey of Investigative News Network and Block by Block members found that publishers put sixty percent of their budgets toward journalism and less than twenty percent to generating revenue. “That mix does not bode well for creating financial stability,” writes Janet Coats, manager of The Patterson Foundation’s New Media Journalism Initiative. (Full disclosure: The JA receives TPF support.) So what does?

The ideas and experiences shared over two days of intense conversation in the recent JA forum on increasing revenue offer many insights into building financial stability. The takeaways fit into three overarching themes, each central to business success: partnerships, advertising and non-ad sources of revenue. Dig into what interests you now, come back later for more. The conversation threads also remain open discover more insights and add your experience. Read the rest of this entry →

Pew Report: The Search for a New Business Model, How Newspapers Are Faring Trying to Build Digital Revenue

March 11, 2012 in Distribution, Revenue, Technology

A new study, which combines detailed proprietary data from individual newspapers with in-depth interviews at more than a dozen major media companies, finds that the search for a new revenue model to revive the newspaper industry is making only halting progress but that some individual newspapers are faring much better than the industry overall and may provide signs of a path forward.

In general, the shift to replace losses in print ad revenue with new digital revenue is taking longer and proving more difficult than executives want and at the current rate most newspapers continue to contract with alarming speed, according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Cultural inertia is a major factor. Most papers are not putting significant effort into the new digital revenue categories that, while small now, are expected to provide most the growth in the future. To different degrees, executives predict newsrooms will continue to shrink, more papers will close and many surviving papers will deliver a print edition only a few days a week.

But some papers are performing quite differently than the norm, some much better and some far worse. These variances suggest that the future of newspapers, rather than being determined entirely by sweeping trends, can be significantly affected by company culture and management-even at papers of quite different sizes.” Source: Pew’s Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism

eMedia Vitals: Life Beyond Print

March 11, 2012 in Distribution, Revenue, Technology

eMedia Vitals is an ad-supported online publication that serves print media executives who are transitioning their business to emedia. Our management and editorial team are media industry veterans with extensive operating experience in companies such as IDG, Penton Media and About.com. Though we are often asked to consult on emedia strategy by magazine and newspaper companies, we are not a consulting firm.

With print advertising revenue dropping faster than it can be replaced by emedia, magazine and newspaper publishers need to accelerate the transition to digital. eMedia Vitals delivers a combination of filtered content from around the web with proprietary video, reference and how-to content, all focused on helping publishers grow their online business.

eMedia Vitals is published by Vital Business Media, a startup media company that is creating a new kind of targeted, online community for professionals in a variety of industries. By utilizing a unique, personalized approach to content and advertising, we offer a receptive and mutually beneficial environment for our readers and our marketing partners.” Source: eMedia Vitals