» Trends Covering the Business of Nonprofit and Independent News Thu, 12 Mar 2015 19:10:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What it’s like to be a freelance investigative journalist today Mon, 09 Mar 2015 21:03:25 +0000 Pay and resources for freelance investigative journalists appears to be dwindling, often forcing them to abandon public-interest stories in an evermore competitive and shrinking news economy. Unsustainable economics was at the top of numerous findings from a survey of more than 250 freelance investigative journalists published in February.

“Untold Stories”—a Project Word survey—is the first of its kind to provide some anecdotal and quantifiable insight into the working conditions of those doing investigative journalism. Project Word is a fiscally sponsored project of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE).

The survey highlighted a number of challenges freelancers have faced in the past five years, including unworkable economics and inadequate reporting tools. But the damage extends beyond the income of freelancers.

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According to the survey, there is a connection between compensation and public-interest journalism in general. Some 81 percent of freelancers who participated in the survey said that lack of resources has forced them to pass on “otherwise viable and important public-interest reports.”

“Local publications have eliminated so many beat reporters and no longer have staffers to sit through City Council meetings or School Board Meetings etc., which means that these organizations go unmonitored. Thus the potential for abuse and corruptions have multiplied. It is hard for freelancers to dedicate the necessary time given what they are paid for articles,” said one of many respondents who submitted comments and chose not to be identified.

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Other more notable findings of the survey include:

  • Some 85 percent of respondents said they used their own money to produce investigative stories.
  • Nearly one-third of respondents said they shell out more than $5,000 out of their own pocket each year to this kind of work
  • About 14 percent didn’t get any compensation for their work.
  • Forty-three percent spent more time in maintaining their business as freelancers rather than reporting.
  • When asked about their “most lucrative investigative report,” about 40 percent of them said they got paid less than $1 per word.

“Even places that will pay $1/word, plus expenses, still amount to $3,000-6,000 at most, which is a pretty small amount for a story that can take upwards of a year to report and write. Not to mention that you get paid on publication, so what are you supposed to eat during the year of reporting and writing?” another unidentified respondent said.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 11.12.24 AMWhile the survey offers candid admissions about the lesser known side of investigative journalism, the report says it offers no solutions to the challenges of the market.

Instead, respondents were asked to offer possible ways to address those challenges. They suggested that freelancers need to seek “viable economic arrangements” such as newsroom collaborations, improve relationships between editors and foundations, standardize fair contracts, and improve legal and research services.

The full report can be read here.

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Closing the gaps in local news Mon, 09 Mar 2015 17:18:11 +0000 People are hungry for local news and they follow local issues and debates closely. I’ve seen that in my daily work with newsrooms and communities in New Jersey and New York and it is reinforced in a new report on “Local News in a Digital Age” just released by the Pew Research Center. Using surveys, news content analysis and interviews the study attempted to map the local news ecosystem and trace the ebb and flow of news through three very different cities: Denver, Macon and Sioux City.

Across the board, the researchers found that “Nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely — and about half do so very closely.” That’s the good news, and it adds to the evidence that local news is still of vital importance to people, even as many journalists struggle to find new ways to pay for that reporting.

However, the report also suggests important areas where local newsrooms — and especially local digital news entrepreneurs — can and should to do more to meet the diverse needs of their communities. These lessons are particularly relevant to the work we are doing at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to strengthen and expand the local news ecosystem in New Jersey. (Subscribe to our newsletter on local news innovation and community engagement here)

Race and Ethnicity are “One of the Greatest Divides” in Local News Ecosystems

The Pew report found that race and ethnicity are “one of the greatest divides in news habits.” In Denver and Macon people of color follow community news at higher rates than white residents.

In Denver, the researchers found 9 outlets specifically serving the Hispanic community there, whereas in Macon they found only one newsroom serving the large African American community. The report didn’t assess how the other mainstream outlets are serving these communities but they did find that amongst the entire population, only 18% of Denver residents and 21% of Macon residents are satisfied with the local media ecosystem.

1-OT2vB9h63Ost2aK5LKmUbwFor me, one of the key findings is this huge gulf between people’s high level of interest in local news and their low satisfaction in local news. Our communities crave access to relevant, timely, useful local information and news but right now our local news ecosystems are not meeting that need. Closing that gap has to begin with creating local media that better reflects the diversity of our communities. But it also calls on us to think more broadly about the services we provide.

That is an exciting opportunity for the future of journalism and an important challenge for civic life in our communities. Elsewhere in the research the authors report that in general, civic engagement corresponds with news consumption. “Civically engaged residents are more connected with their local news and are drawn to a more diverse set of news sources,” the authors write. In addition to following the news at a greater rate, blacks and Hispanics specifically also expressed “a greater sense of agency when it comes to improving their community.” We have to understand that news is a civic tool and our communities are eager to put it to use.

Local News and Participatory Journalism

The Pew report found that most local news outlets are not engaging citizens creatively or deeply as part of their journalism. “Citizens are a part of the news process, but mainly as quoted sources or as disseminators of news in social media,” the report notes. The research focused on fairly established modes of engagement with news beyond sources and distribution — submitting content, calling in to radio shows, commenting on a blog — but even these actions came in very low. Deeper models of engagement like crowdsourcing, events, citizen-driven beats, hands on journalism, and open editorial meetings were not even explored as far as I can tell.

For all the attention community engagement has received in journalism discussions over recent years, we still have a long way to go in thinking about how local newsrooms can build community around the news, encourage participation, and open themselves up as a resource for local people. Given that the report found an alignment between civic engagement and engagement with local news there is an opportunity to marshal the creativity and energy of these engaged citizens to strengthen local media. But, it is not enough to only reach out to the already engaged. In thinking about new forms of engagement we should embrace the challenge of using new models to welcome in new people. And we should recognize that some of the best ideas for how to do that likely exist within the communities we want to reach, not within our newsrooms.

Local Doesn’t Scale

The report also highlights how unique local communities have different ideas about what they need and want from local news. Each city had different priorities for the topics they wanted to see covered, reminding us that local news isn’t ever one-size-fits-all. That finding was reinforced by other parts of the report.

1-r8-42IoCpE9KOnwYdyrO5QTaking a wide angle lens to the question of how people get their local news makes clear how diverse social, political and structural issues shape the landscape of journalism. “These three cities are not meant to be extrapolated to the nation as whole,” the authors write, “but they do indicate the degree to which local factors — from digital infrastructure to economics to civic engagement to race, ethnicity and education — contribute to the mix of providers that emerge, the public that supports them and the ways they interact.”

Indeed, in places with greater internet access and where more people are engaging with local news online and via social networks their experience of news is fundamentally different.

“In more wired cities news may literally travel faster” the authors write.

For those of us in newsrooms, education, philanthropy and community who are working on expanding local news and supporting new journalism entrepreneurs, this finding is important. We can and should create new networks to share resources, lessons and foster collaboration. But we also need to be helping journalists develop tools and strategies for identifying and address unique community assets and needs. We need to encourage more listening and empathy, and understand how to map the local factors that are shaping our communities. After decades of local news being defined largely by chain newspaper ownership, we need to embrace and respond to the uniquely local character of our communities and develop services that meet them where they are.

A Systems Approach to News Ecosystems

The Pew report complements other recent reports on local news, like theFCC’s Information Needs of Communities and Duke University’s The Goat Must Be Fed. It is particularly useful in its deep exploration of local news outside of the major media markets on the east and west coasts that often get a lot more attention. I’ll be interested to see how local journalists and residents in Denver, Macon and Sioux City respond. Hopefully the report can serve as a useful catalyst in bringing together diverse coalitions of people and organizations who are interested in working together to expand what’s working and tackle what’s not.

In New Jersey, we are trying to develop strategies to help local newsrooms expand the kind of work outlined above with a particular focus oncommunity engagement and revenue sustainability. Our ecosystem is knit together by an incredible collaborative experiment called the New Jersey News Commons at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University where more than 120 local newsrooms are members. That model may be of use in other areas. The findings in the Pew report will help inform that work but we are also working with a team of researchers at Rutgers University to explore some similar questions about the news ecosystem in our state. We’ll share the findings from that work later this spring.

This post originally appeared in the Local News Lab blog and has been republished with permission.

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How nontraditional journalism is filling the gaps in declining statehouse reporting Tue, 17 Feb 2015 16:00:41 +0000 A number of journalism and technology projects are hoping to fill the gaps caused by a dramatic decline nationwide in statehouse reporting.

Interviews with news nonprofits, technologists, funders and experts on the issue confirm there is no scarcity of ideas or projects to address the decline of journalists at each of the 50 statehouses.

INN compiled the interviews for a follow-up report on a summit it held last October, called the “Statehouse Reporting Workshop.” Prompting the summit was a 2014 Pew Research Report titled “America’s Shifting Statehouse Press,” which found that fewer than a third of newspapers assign any kind of reporter to the statehouse.

INN wanted to see how nonprofits were dealing with the issue. Leading the meet—which comprised 24 funders, practitioners, technology companies and legislative experts—in Chicago, was Kevin Davis, CEO & Executive Director of INN, who emphasized the increasing need for insightful and persistent unbiased news and information.

“We see nonprofit newsrooms as being a key part of the solution moving forward, tackling this need by increasing engagement and participation of the people in the communities, counties and states served,” Davis said.

The follow-up report, which combined summit discussions with months-later interviews with the attendees, reveals that projects to fill the gap in statehouse reporting mostly split into two categories. One calls for more reporters on the ground at each statehouse; the other believes technology can help equip those reporters with information vital to their jobs.

At the summit, two concepts stuck out. One involves a surge of resources, including more reporters, in the statehouses themselves; the other is an open-state database of legislative activity across all states.

No projects specific to those two models came out of the summit, but a number of nonprofits already have been pursuing projects that emulate those two ideas.

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One comes from POPVOX, an online startup that, according to its site, “meshes real-time legislative data with users’ personal stories and sentiment, delivering public input to government in a format tailored to actionable policy decisions.”

POPVOX, based in Washington, D.C., is working on making its current database of legislative activity available to application developers, who then can use it as a basis for action. Currently POPVOX combines every bill that is introduced in Congress and “select regulations that are open for official public comment” with personal stories into one database.

Marci Harris

Marci Harris

Expansion of that database is dependent on funding for POPVOX. “Really, the only thing that determines how quickly we do that or how big we go—whether it’s one state at a time or a larger project, a 10-state pilot moving out to the 50—is that we’re resource-constrained,” said CEO Marci Harris.

The problem: Legislative data software these days is that it is often produced by for-profit companies that offer at a price tag too expensive for journalists or the public to access, she said. “Neutral information is expensive,” she said.

POPVOX is not alone; other similar projects are moving forward—for example,, an “open-source platform for questions-and-answers with public figures,” and ​Councilmatic, which dispenses and contextualizes legislative information and allows people to debate its pros and cons. Both work similarly in concept but more at the local level.

Then there’s the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Cox Media Group newspaper. It recently launched its own database, the Legislative Navigator, which tracks Georgia state bills and legislators’ activity. The Navigator utilizes technology and data from other organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation, MinnPost, the Georgia General Assembly and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Such projects exhibit promise and indicate that there is an emerging market in civic engagement—and there is a race on to be the first to strike gold.

Then there’s the other model, with a more human face, as espoused in INN member nonprofit news organizations like the VTDigger, the Texas Tribune and the ​Pulitzer Prize​­winning Center for Public Integrity. They are taking to the task of keeping statehouse reporting alive by increasing the body count.

The latter, for example, announced in September an initiative to hire 50 freelancers nationwide to cover corruption in state government. And in late January, it produced a major report​ on state­-level elections and money in politics.

The report essentially identifies individuals, unions and trade groups who gave the most money to politicians in each of the states for the 2014 elections. The CPI has produced a slew of stories focused on these findings as well.

Jon Dunbar

Jon Dunbar

Veteran journalist John Dunbar, deputy executive editor and managing editor covering politics and finance at the CPI, says the nonprofit also is working closely with the Associated Press, which in December began ​“doubling down”​ on state-government coverage by hiring more statehouse reporters.

In its announcement, the AP said it has hired 13 statehouse reporters over the past year and that an additional 40 contract reporters will be added this year. Further details of the hires or its collaboration with the Center remain to be seen, and both efforts will be followed up upon as new information emerges.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 10.52.41 AMIn January, the Texas Tribune launched something of a hybrid product that combines data and old-school reporting. Its Texas Legislative Guide of the “​84th Lege”​ is a special page on the paper’s site that allows people to follow the actions of Texas lawmakers, including the bills they introduce and the ones they vote for.

The Tribune collaborated with the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation to use its ​Open States app, which allows voters to “track state bills, get campaign and contact information for legislators and follow all the action” across the country. The app feeds data about legislators to the 84th Lege to complement reporting done by Tribune reporters. It’s collaborations like these that could present a viable solution to fill the gap in statehouse reporting, says managing editor Ayan Mittra.

“Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation’s Open States product, we were able to keep our legislative-­bill search updated without having to do manual coding on our own. This is the type of common coding that more folks across the state need,” Mittra said. “Because of Open States, we were able to focus on other features for the page that will be a great service to our audience.”


Anne Galloway

Anne Galloway, editor and founder at VTDigger, a statewide news website that publishes watchdog reports on state government, politics, consumer affairs, business and public policy, is another advocate for hiring more reporters. She said the VTDigger is probably the news organization with the strongest presence in the Vermont statehouse with five reporters on the beat.

She praises the work of the CPI and the ​Sunlight Foundation’s Open States app​ but says statehouse reporting is more than that.

“Projects like those are a tiny, tiny part of it,” she said. “It’s important, but I think people want to know what the impacts of changing state statutes and what’s going on inside state government.”

Like CPI, Galloway believes putting more reporters on the statehouse beat is the solution. But she also expressed skepticism about whether any real solutions came out of the October meeting. She wants to see whether the AP or the CPI will fulfill their goals of hiring more reporters.

“If no hiring is done, let’s reconvene and see what’s happening,” she said. “We need to hire reporters.”

So which approach is better—hire more reporters or expand the open state database?

Tom Glaisyer

Tom Glaisyer

“The range of views on problems and solutions shared in the meeting was very useful, and though there is a temptation to think the solution is either more reporters or more technology, the reality is that it will be both. The challenge will be knitting them together,” said Tom Glaisyer, Program Director for the Informed Participation Initiative at the Democracy Fund.

“In a news environment that will likely continue to have a large number of relatively small outlets all with small shares of a state’s audience the challenge is knitting together the sometimes idiosyncratic strengths of particular organizations to serve the specific environments and local communities.”

Of course, the question on both approaches ultimately circles back to funding, the other major topic at the summit. Not everyone is convinced foundations are fully committed to the cause.

Galloway, for example, said the funding situation is “totally discouraging.” She said she left the summit with a sense that there is zero philanthropic funding for statehouse reporting—but she put the onus on the practitioners attendees.

“I think [the funders] want us to tell them what we want and come up with a plan, and they didn’t get that,” she said. “There weren’t enough practitioners there—I don’t think we had enough critical mass to say, ‘Hey look, this is what people on the ground need.’ Technology is important, but it’s a tool and you still need people—you need people digging. Technology is a starting place, not an end goal.”

The CPI’s Dunbar agrees that funding has gravely wounded watchdog journalism in each state Capitol.

“The reality is that cash­strapped news organizations, with some notable exceptions, have abandoned the statehouses of the nation,” Dunbar said, adding: “Some philanthropic organizations, like the Arnold Foundation, are helping to fill the gap. Foundations are essential in helping create a robust new model of state government coverage, supported by multiple funding streams, now and in the foreseeable future.”

Failure to invest in statehouse reporting projects would be a missed opportunity, says Ayan Mittra, managing editor of the Texas Tribune. A lot of important stories can be missed, and lack of funding prevents news organizations from engaging in a broader conversation and share best practices, he adds.

In a ​blog post​, Kelly Born of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, wrote that “while the discussion of problems facing statehouse journalism was rich and the ideas generated interesting, none are silver bullets.”

“Addressing the issues plaguing statehouse reporting will require time and effort from many actors across the news media’” she said “The question remains which, if any, of these ideas could be implemented, iterated, and scaled—and which might make a demonstrable difference.”

Funders overwhelmingly agree that statehouse reporting is vital to maintaining an informed citizenry, as well as keeping government accountable and transparent. But they’re also waiting to hear some good, solid ideas.

“We believe the recent meeting with journalists and innovative thinkers sparked new ideas and productive conversations. Our hope is that those discussions will lead to scalable solutions focused on making government more open and accountable,” said Kelli Rhee, Vice President of Venture Development at the Arnold Foundation.

Next week, the Knight News Challenge opens for submissions—projects that “range from bringing more transparency to money and politics, to making voting easy, efficient and fair, to converting election participation into longer-term civic engagement—on the local, state or national level.”

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What’s wrong with a state-funded news site?  Well… Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:41:26 +0000 Concept photo of "Just IN," a proposed news site run by the state of Indiana.

Concept photo of Just IN, a proposed news site run by the state of Indiana.

I was a little busy last week, but I did notice one story running by me on Twitter: The state of Indiana was going to open and fund a news site.

All the media folk and web hipsters I follow thought this was a terrible, no-good, very bad idea.

I’ll admit it. I have attended a few too many conference on the need to find new business models for journalism. These sessions had an eerie sameness. You could set your clock by them: about 45 minutes in, everyone would be very depressed, and then someone would pipe up about how “other countries supported journalism” and that government subsidy was really the only way out. This would generally be regarded by the crowd as a pipe dream.

Even the Knight Foundation, which is really, really into giving money to journalism, had its doubts about the idea. From its Knight Commission report of 2011: “It is highly unlikely that in the near term, government will directly fund journalism, especially in a time of strained budgets at all levels. Even indirect subsidies or added tax breaks may be problematic.”

There are plenty of well-known and well-respected government-funded news organizations: the BBC, Canada’s CBC and Voice of America. Even our own NPR and PBS are funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Of course, there are also state-run news organizations that exist largely to repeat the views of the government that funds them—I won’t list them here, but it’s a much longer list.

So what kind of news site was Indiana intending to create? An independent, trustworthy news source, or a government megaphone? Over the weekend, I had a chance to find out. One Indianapolis Star story gave us this tidbit about the workflow of such an organization: Indiana governor Mike Pence, it said, “is planning in late February to launch ‘Just IN,’ a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries…”

Oh, dear. That’s not good. Not good at all. My friends on Twitter were right: This was a terrible, no good, very bad idea, indeed.

This brings us to the essential question: What’s the difference between a good government-funded news organization, and a not-good one? What makes one trustworthy, and the others not so?

Mostly, ironclad editorial independence.

Any form of funding—any form of funding at all, whether it’s commercial advertisers, philanthropic funders, government sources and even member/donors—can have an undue influence on the end product of a news organization if we don’t think things through.

The problem here is that thinking things through requires a good deal of sitting down, maybe even with a committee. Such a prospect may make you feel as though you’ve done something to anger the news gods. Maybe you started a sentence with a proposition, or buried the lede one too many times. The pressure of deadlines and the news events rushing by may make you just decide to table it for a while. Possibly forever.

We have good news for you: We here at the Investigative News Network did a lot of the work for you. Since we have 100-plus member newsrooms, there are many things that makes it easier for us to do as a group than it would be for each of us to sit down and hammer it out one by one.

Editorial independence is a cornerstone of building a trustworthy, sustainable news organization, which is why we wrote: “We will maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and all sources of revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions…we accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities, but our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support.”

If you’d like to use INN’s editorial independence policy as a template, feel free to download a copy here.

And what happened to Indiana governor Mike Pence’s idea for a news startup, anyway?  Well, it was stopped before it even got started, and Pence denies he ever had such an idea in the first place.

It’s tough out there for a news startup.

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Kevin Davis: Five trends for nonprofit news in 2015 Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:35:52 +0000 INN CEO Kevin Davis

INN CEO Kevin Davis

It was a weird year in media, 2014. Vox and Vice got billion-dollar valuations. The New Republic and First Look Media publicly imploded. Sony allowed cyber-terrorists to impact what films we get to see and how. And probably the biggest story of the year was not Net Neutrality, but rather a whodunnit podcast called Serial.

While I cannot begin to predict what comes next in the spin cycle, there continues to be good news coming out of one of the fastest-growing sectors in the American media landscape: nonprofit news organizations. In fact, I am so bullish on the nonprofit news model that I am predicting that 2015 will be the year of nonprofit news.

Here’s why:

1. There is a much brighter light at the end of the tunnel: Five years ago, when the organization that I run, the Investigative News Network, was formed, the need for nonprofit public interest journalism was acute, but the funding and business models were far from clear.

There are now enough examples of long-term success in revenue diversification and generation that we have a good sense of what can and will support mission-driven organizations.

We know that there is no “revenue black box” that is yet to be discovered. We know that sustainability — or at least the ability to have sufficient resources not just to do the journalism, but maintain a healthy business — is comprised of multiple revenue streams that primarily draw their value from the communities and people served (not third-party advertisers).

2. Low cost/Ease of use: It has never been easier or faster to establish a nonprofit news organization.

Today, start-up nonprofit newsrooms have the ability to get a free mobile-ready website, training on how to run and grow a successful nonprofit business and gain direct and practical knowledge of leading-edge techniques on business development.

Most importantly, there is no longer the need to reinvent the wheel. There are now literally hundreds of nonprofit and mission-driven organizations in the U.S. and even across the globe that have spent years in the trenches clawing their way forward.

3. Money attracts more money: What we have also learned from the past few years is that organizations that start underfunded often stay underfunded, while organizations that were able to secure sufficient funding for both the editorial and business side of the house tend to do much better in the near and long-term.

One only need to take a look at the most successful organizations in the nonprofit public interest media space to see this trend. ProPublica, Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego and, most recently, The Marshall Project not only were able to secure funding from angel investors, but also were able to parlay that base into additional funding from foundations as well.

And is it any wonder? Foundations, like other types of investors, are looking for organizations to invest in that have the wherewithal to succeed and who are not wholly dependent on their investments to keep the lights on. I predict that this trend will continue into 2015, but, as a result, there will be further decline in foundation funding for start-up nonprofit newsrooms.

4. More mergers and acquisitions: In 2013, two leading members of the Investigative News Network, the St. Louis Beacon and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News organization, pioneered a way forward by merging with local public media organizations. We see the trend of independent and public media nonprofit news organizations coming together to jointly meet the needs of the communities that they serve continuing and accelerating in 2015.

The reasons are both being driven by market realities and the need for greater reach and scale. From a market perspective, there are only so many nonprofit newsrooms that a particular market can sustain. Instead of competing against each other, nonprofit newsrooms (which are inherently predisposed to collaboration) are often better-off working together on fund raising.

Likewise, by reducing fragmentation, these organizations have a better shot of cultivating a dedicated audience — and a membership revenue stream as a result — by combining forces and working across multiple media platforms including radio, broadcast and digital.

5. Becoming a hits-driven business: While there was much discussion in media circles in 2014 about the need to come up with metrics to quantify the impact of journalism, no verifiable metric came close to the 40 million downloads and unprecedented success of Serial, a podcast by the team that produces This American Life.

The implications of this success go far beyond the resurrection of the podcast as a medium and business model. What Serial proves is that people will go out of their way for good stories that they can discover and share.

While there are many good stories being produced on an ongoing basis by many nonprofit and for-profit newsrooms, it is the discovery and sharing parts that are essential in breaking-out in today’s media maelstrom.

Successful commercial producers of entertainment and news know that in media marketing, nothing is left up to chance and that a lot of planning, resources and work go into the process.

Just as money begets money, so do hits beget hits. Would Serial have been as popular if it hadn’t been produced by the This American Life team? Maybe so. But I do believe that Serial most definitely got noticed, written-about and promoted because of its pedigree.

I predict that the implications of this move — focusing on hits for nonprofit newsrooms — will be profound. Attention, and therefore funding, will most certainly go to those organizations that can break through, rather than organizations covering beats regardless of how socially important the topic.

In my opinion, nonprofit organizations that ramp up, break through and get their content noticed will continue to lead the way into what promises to be a very important year for nonprofit news.


This column originally appeared on NetNewsCheck and has been republished with permission.

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Why—and what—journalists must know about video training Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:12:41 +0000 If this recent Nielsen study doesn’t convince you that people are streaming more video than ever, you may want to pay closer attention at your next cellphone bill.

The journalism industry is certainly not ignoring this trend, and you can find evidence on everything from YouTube to Facebook, even in places not previously known for visual storytelling: radio, print, web and even nonprofit news outlets.

“Audiences are increasingly interested in written content that is supplemented by imagery—it adds dynamism and can be a more efficient means of conveying certain types of information,” says Jason Jakaitis, director of Independent Media at the nonprofit Bay Area Video Coalition.

“There are times when the audience wants their imagination activated by the written word, but there are other times when the audience wants to have a visually concrete context alongside the words,” Jakaitis says.

Part of the industry push, he says, is due to advances in technology that allow for easier production of high-quality media content. “Through social media and camera phones, journalists—like everyone else—are becoming independent production studios.”

Additionally, a recent Poynter-Knight Foundation survey explored the topic of training in large and small newsrooms. The survey found that journalists listed social media, digital tools, video skills and data journalism among the skills of most importance to their careers. Newsroom managers, hear that?

Eric Newton, of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, explains this in the report:

“The digital age forced the wholesale rewrite of craft and profession, to say nothing of topic education. Classrooms and newsrooms are starting to understand more about numeracy, design, new media forms and community engagement. Yet craft, profession and topic education are no longer enough. The digital age demands a new, permanent category of training and education.

To that end, Jakaitis’ BAVC offers training in northern California—and nationally at client sites—in media technologies, including graphic and web design, motion graphics, experimental web design, video production, video post-production and web development.

And in November, BAVC partnered with the Investigative News Network, with support from the John D.and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to offer a five-day boot camp, where a handful of journalists learned how to use DSLRs, GoPro cameras, mobile phone video, “b-roll” techniques and an assortment of skills needed to produce quality content.

All, Jakaitis says, are skills that carry over no matter the camera or editing platform: on-camera interviews, effective implementation of b-roll and cutaways, basic videography and visual storytelling approaches.

Don’t know much about video editing? Jakaitis breaks down the key software that gets the job done—from pricey to free:

Adobe’s Creative Cloud offers a robust software package, including it editing platform, Premiere, which can be accessed via a monthly fee (with updates immediately made to the software, rather than having to buy new iterations).

Final Cut Pro X is a simplified version of Final Cut Pro 7—far friendlier to prosumer filmmakers (and journalists who are doing this on the side, for that matter) It’s more limited in scope than Adobe’s CC, but it’s just $300 for the software.

And whereas Final Cut Pro X has been “dumbed down” for broader use, Apple’s iMovie has been retooled and is a perfectly viable—and super cheap—tool for basic no-frills filmmaking.

Finally, Lightworks is an open-source editing platform that plays with both Macs and PCs and can be downloaded for free. The interface is similar to Premiere and Final Cut Pro X. But while it is pretty powerful for something so readily accessible online, it is limited and unfortunately lacks some of the elegance of other workflows.

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7 takeaways from the Poynter-Knight Foundation journalism training report Tue, 02 Dec 2014 22:27:17 +0000 The digital age in news calls for “a new, permanent category of training and education” and a new report by Poynter and the Knight Foundation shows journalists aren’t getting all the training they need or want. The survey titled “Constant Training: New Normal Or Missed Opportunity?” asked journalists about their various training experiences.

A little more than 72 percent of of 1,650 journalists answered the survey. We looked at the report and we spotted seven things that stood out:

  1. Digital training is seen as most important: Social media tops the list of skills most desired. Training in digital tools, video skills, and data journalism follow right after.
  2. Appetite for digital training is not satisfied: “Of the 16 percent of respondents who received digital tools training, 59 percent want more.”
  3. Journalists say they can absorb more: “The vast majority [88 percent] of journalists who participated in the survey said it was ‘likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ that they could absorb more training.”
  4. Lack of time and money prevented training: 62 percent of respondents said they do not receive training because they have “no time;” some 34 percent say lack of funding prevented getting training.
  5. Journalists prefer to train during the workweek: 36 percent want to train at work at a specific time while 33 percent want to train with a manager on a select day of the week.
  6. Journalists are pretty satisfied: “Of those journalists who took training in the past 12 months, more than half [56 percent] were ‘mostly’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the training they received.”
  7. Managers remain unsupportive: 4 percent of respondents say their managers are not supportive of training; 16 percent are slightly supportive; and 22 percent are neutral.
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How to improve statehouse reporting? Thu, 06 Nov 2014 20:04:59 +0000 Kelly Born, Hewlett Foundation

Kelly Born, Hewlett Foundation

I recently attended a conference in Chicago on how to improve statehouse reporting – looking not just at the reporters physically in our nation’s 50 state capitols, but also those covering the effects of Statehouse policies on agencies, departments, and the executive branch.

Why is this important? (At least) two reasons: First, fully half of the state legislatures that met in 2012 passed more bills in one year than congress passed in two years. That’s a lot of bills.

Second, just as with the broader field of journalism, Statehouse reporting has experienced dramatic reductions in coverage in recent years. Pew Research Center estimates a 35% decline in statehouse newspaper reporters since 2003, an even steeper decline than that in newsrooms overall during the same period. That leaves fewer than 1,600 journalists in America’s capitols—and only 47% of those are full-time. That averages out to 15 full-time reporters per state, but the actual numbers vary widely, from a high of 53 in Texas to just two in South Dakota. According to Pew:

  • “Less than a third of U.S. newspapers assign any kind of reporter—full-time or part-time—to the statehouse.”
  • “Fully 86% of local TV news stations do not assign even one reporter—full -time or part-time—to the statehouse.” This is especially problematic in that most Americans (particularly less ideological ones) still get the majority of their news from local TV.
  • “Students account for 14% (223 in all) of the overall statehouse reporting corps.” In fact four states—Missouri, Nevada, Kansas, and Arizona—have more students than FTEs.

The Chicago conference was designed to explore whether and how foundations might help to address these problems. Orchestrated by Kevin Davis of the 100+ member Investigative News Network (INN, a Madison Initiative grantee) and moderated by Steven Waldman, journalist, media entrepreneur, and former Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the event brought together a small (20-ish) but wide-ranging group. This included representatives from the Pew Research Center, the Associated Press, and Storify, alongside some of the nation’s most successful nonprofit journalism outlets, including Center for Public Integrity, the Texas Tribune (both Hewlett Foundation grantees), and Vermont’s VT Digger. It included representatives from Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (also a Hewlett grantee) and American University’s School of Communications, alongside leaders of politically-relevant nonprofits like PopVox, the Institute for Advanced Technology & Public Policy, Chicago’s Better Government Association, Al-Jazeera. It also included representatives from the Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Ford, Knight, and McCormick foundations. And of course me, from the Hewlett Foundation.

We discussed three primary goals that a healthy Statehouse reporting field would help to support:

  • Holding officials accountable (and thereby helping to deter bad behavior)
  • Engaging the public with relevant, useful information
  • Leveling the playing field between special interests and the public

We then discussed a LOT of barriers to these goals—the discussion filled up four of five flipcharts (in pretty small print). These fell into a couple of loose, often overlapping categories which I’ll attempt to summarize here:

  • Lack of sustainable business models. This was the background to all of our discussion.
    Public trust in information. Including discussion of coverage that is more “horse-racy” than substantive, polarization of the media, lack of journalistic standards, and the increasing influence of special interests.
  • Public engagement with the news. Including news’ lack of nuance / personalization, and the perceived lack of understanding (on the part of news producers) of “consumers’” preferences. All driving low public interest in political news.
  • News quality. Including concerns that news has become more “reactive than proactive” and that so little is translated into Spanish or other languages. This also touched on the lack of “data or journalistic standards” and of “data interoperability” (e.g., overarching taxonomies) that would allow data to speak to each other across geographies or organizational silos, which would allow for better trend interpretation.
  • Reporter efficiency. Including the lack of training and institutional knowledge, declining reporter relationships (e.g., access to tips, time to conduct interviews, etc.). This discussion also touched on reporters’ limited access to (and ability to interpret) public records.
  • Government accountability. Including the lack of government transparency, as well as the perceived shift of government resources away from governing towards communications/PR.
  • The (increasingly?) negative tone of news. Including whether / how this serves to undermine other democratic goals of civic engagement.

Undaunted (well, maybe a little daunted), we then broke into groups to brainstorm solutions. Ideas included:

  • Creating either a national hub or regional hubs of accountability journalism, making data and research available for easy customization by local reporters.
  • Creating a mobile, time-limited (3 year), highly-publicized team to help improve state media that would focus on specific states. (The benefit of it being time-limited and highly-publicized being that the public might feel a heightened responsibility to support the effort and focus attention on longer-run sustainability.)
  • Auditing—and creating a central database of—existing journalistic data resources, collaborations, players, etc., with a goal of helping to inform others about what is available and identifying the gaps.
  • Improving data standardization across states to provide reporters with, for example, standardized data on bills’ statuses, so that journalists have tools as good as the lobbyists.

But while the discussion of problems facing statehouse journalism was rich and the ideas generated interesting, none are silver bullets. Addressing the issues plaguing statehouse reporting will require time and effort from many actors across the news media. The question remains which, if any, of these ideas could be implemented, iterated, and scaled—and which might make a demonstrable difference.

This post originally appeared in and has been republished with permission.

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INN members take ONA awards! Mon, 29 Sep 2014 22:21:55 +0000 Over the weekend, a few INN members were recognized for their work in digital journalism at the Online News Association conference in Chicago.

ProPublica came out as one of the biggest winners—taking 2014 Online Journalism Awards in five categories including explanatory reporting, general excellence in online journalism, topical reporting.

Among our other INN members who won awards: The Center for Public Integrity, Mother Jones, and the Texas Tribune.

Here are the categories our members landed awards:

Explanatory Reporting, Medium (Tie)

Feature, Medium

General Excellence in Online Journalism, Medium

General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small

Planned News/Events, Medium

Planned News/Events, Small

The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium

Topical Reporting, Medium

Topical Reporting, Small

Also, it’s important to note that the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange was a finalist for its “Battling Meth: A Mother’s Road to Recovery” project.

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Trevor Aaronson returns to FCIR as Executive Director Thu, 25 Sep 2014 14:23:37 +0000 Trevor_AaronsonTrevor Aaronson has been named executive director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting effective Oct. 1.

Aaronson will be responsible for FCIR’s day-to-day operations, especially for growing the nonprofit organization’s journalism and revenue. This newly created position gives Aaronson an ex-officio seat on the board of directors.

He will team up with Tristram Korten, who will continue as FCIR’s editor, a position he’s held since January. Korten will focus on expanding FCIR’s original investigative reporting and special events.

FCIR is based at the University of Miami in Coral Gables and partners with news media throughout the state.

Aaronson co-founded FCIR in 2010 with Mc Nelly Torres, now an investigative producer with NBC6 in South Florida. He rejoins Florida’s only statewide, bilingual news site devoted to public service reporting after helping to launch the U.S. investigative unit for Al Jazeera Media Network in Washington, D.C.

At Al Jazeera, he produced a one-hour documentary about FBI counterterrorism informants and contributed reporting to stories about California political corruption and security failures at U.S. embassies worldwide

“I’m returning to FCIR because I believe more than ever that we can grow the organization into a sustainable force in Florida journalism and beyond,” Aaronson said. “I’m grateful to FCIR’s board for inviting me to return, and to FCIR’s funders and news partners for supporting me as well. Among my initial goals is to expand FCIR’s funding base, from foundations and news partners to individual contributors.”

A Florida native, Aaronson ran FCIR through July 2013 as associate director. Under his leadership, the investigative nonprofit won more three dozen state and regional awards and collaborated with news organizations throughout Florida and the nation. Aaronson also led FCIR’s earned revenue programs providing data journalism services to Florida news organizations, including the Miami Herald, NBC6 in South Florida, and Florida’s NPR stations.

“We’re ecstatic to welcome Trevor back. He helped create FCIR, and the board believes he and Tris are a formidable team as journalists and entrepreneurs to grow FCIR with the goal of earning enough revenue to be sustainable,” said Sharon Rosenhause, FCIR’s board president.

Aaronson’s own reporting has won many honors, including the Molly National Journalism Prize and the international Data Journalism Award. He was also a two-time finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, in 2006 and 2012. 

Aaronson is the author of a 2013 book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, about the FBI’s use of informants and counterterrorism sting operations. The updated and expanded paperback edition was released this month.

Aaronson has been an investigative reporting fellow at the University of California-Berkeley and an investigative reporter at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Miami New Times and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.

He can be reached by email at

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