{ 8 Lessons Learned From New Journalism Business Models }

March 29, 2014 § 4 Comments

Media entrepreneurs shared their experiences with “New Journalism Business Models” yesterday at the Association of Healthcare Journalists conference. It was one of those wonderful, enlightening situations where I realized how much I don’t know. The panelists were driven, sophisticated and compassionate. My new heroes. Here you go:

All of these newsrooms began in the mid-2000s or later. Since then, one has merged with a university, and a couple more have shuffled under the umbrella of existing news organizations (à la the St. Louis Beacon). After first hitting “publish” in 2009, the Texas Tribune now has a staff of 50, including 18 full-time reporters and other support in tech, finance, sponsorship sales and others. You can learn a lot more from them and others at news-biz.org.

{ Fill a niche. }

Don’t do anything that duplicates what others are doing.

{ Set priorities.}

For instance, the Texas Tribune has always been about state politics and public policy. Even if there’s a big shooting near their office (or some other big event), they won’t cover it unless there’s a policy focus. Similarly, Rose Hoban’s motto is, “If it didn’t happen in North Carolina, it didn’t happen.”

{ Stand on a four-legged stool. }

This is how I-News made enough to support themselves:

  1. grants and donations
  2. earned revenue, including an investigative journalism camp for high school students
  3. underwriting
  4. pay for content, where I-News does a major investigation and shares with other media

{ Better yet, get an eight-leg stool. }

And Texas Tribune doubled down:

  1. startup funding from a huge venture capitalist
  2. corporate sponsorships (underwriting)
  3. events sponsored by companies (60 in a year, including an annual three-day festival)
  4. small membership (less than $1,000 per year)
  5. major gifts ($1,000+ per year)
  6. subscriptions to a few of their paid products
  7. paid syndication
  8. crowdfunding

For details, see their “Who Funds Us?” page.

{ Marry well? }

Rose Hoban showed us the budget for North Carolina Health News. The “Editor” line read $0. “That’s me,” she said. “I haven’t earned a salary in two years. My husband is awesome, and he respects fact that I’ve been hustling and working my ass off to make this happen.”

{ Find revenue that doesn’t need a crystal ball. }

It’s not so much about donated revenue vs. earned revenue. The issue is predictable revenue vs. nonpredictable. Foundations and major donors aren’t predictable. Earned revenue strategies, products and small donors tend to be the strongest income you can predict.

{ Evolve, but carefully. }

The panelists predicted what they’re next steps are for their organizations. Afterward, Tim Griggs told me how Texas Tribune developed their entrepreneurial reporting really well before they were ready to move into investigative projects. Now, they’re seeking understanding of 1) who their audience is, 2) what they want audience to be and 3) how to evaluate the publication’s impact. “The challenge is not just for nonprofit news organizations, but for everyone: How do you, in a way that makes sense and is not anecdotal, convince sponsors that it matters?”

{ Give us five years. }

Roger that. While they get their funding ducks in a row, us young’ns can build capital and hop in after the wheel gets invented. Good luck to everyone!



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