» business Covering the Business of Nonprofit and Independent News Tue, 24 Mar 2015 19:54:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 News startups are hardly spending money to make money, survey reveals Thu, 12 Jun 2014 22:57:02 +0000 News startups spent less than 20 percent of their budget on making money to run their business, according to a survey sample of 48 publishers who provided information on their own expenses.

News startups spent 55 percent of their total budget on creating editorial. That was more than half of what they spent on sales, revenue development and marketing, according to the survey conducted by media consultant Michele McLellan.

If those figures are true and representative of other news startups, it “may spell trouble for longterm sustainability,” McLellan writes on her blog.

McLellan also cited INN member City Limits as an exception for devoting 45 percent of its budget to revenue development.

To see the full results of the survey, click here to visit McLellan’s blog at the Knight Digital Media Center.

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For Florida news nonprofit, data journalism pays bills Mon, 29 Jul 2013 23:28:03 +0000 A funny thing happened on the way to sustainability for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Specifically — data journalism, and selling FCIR’s expertise to major news clients, such as the Miami Herald, and local NBC and NPR affiliates, that lack the staffing and expertise to really crunch the numbers.

According to co-founder Trevor Aaronson, FCIR’s expertise in highly specialized data reporting — managing databases, merging them, extracting meaning from boggling sets of numbers and statistics — became so much of a commodity that it adds up to about 25 percent of their annual budget, second only to foundation grants.

What’s making it work is a confluence of several key factors.

First, there’s a lot more data available in today’s networked information society. According to Aaronson: “Traditional news organizations realize the power of the type of journalism they can do with data,” but lack the staff and in-house expertise actually produce those stories.

“A lot of leaders of traditional news organizations feel wary and uncomfortable hiring for data positions,” he said, “because they themselves don’t have the skills. The acronyms are unknown, it makes it hard to judge who to hire.”

Nonprofits such as FCIR can serve as a one-stop shop. “We have the staff, we can provide the analysis, we can give you the guidance on what you can do with the story,” Aaronson said.

Secondly, as an accomplished, collaboration-minded nonprofit news agency, FCIR already has a network of commercial news partners. This proved fertile ground for developing the organization’s data-journalism clientele.

“There’s a feeling of comfort with us,” Aaronson said. Existing news partners feel they can share stories with FCIR without worrying about being scooped — a vital step toward turning a partner into a client.

The Center’s rates range from $40-$80 per hour, and the projects vary widely.

“You could be providing almost exclusively high-end stuff,” he said. “Data visualizations, intense analysis using SQL … but I’m surprised at how basic some of the requests are. We could whip ‘em up using Excel. Someone just getting started could do that.”

In fact, Aaronson noted, most clients want to increase their own reporters’ skill sets, and most contracts the Center signs include a two-day training session on data journalism.

“If there was anyone in j-school today who thinks ‘how am I gonna get a job?'” he said. “Go learn data journalism and you’ll definitely get a job. When organizations have jobs for data journalism, they have trouble finding really good applicants.”

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Nonprofit newsprint targets underserved audiences, builds partnerships, marketing base Fri, 19 Jul 2013 19:26:35 +0000 I’m often asked why a print newspaper is at the core of the nonprofit local news organization I launched in San Francisco. All the innovation in the journalism startup space seems to be rushing onto the Web, mobile devices or whatever comes next — brain implants, maybe?
SFPP issue-11-front-page-2
Many public-media entrepreneurs believe the abandonment of print, broadcast and other traditional media is premature. In the hallways at journalism conferences, a number of members of the Investigative News Network have told me they need to do more to raise their profiles locally, reach new audiences and give their operations a “cool factor.”

The Public Press has a daily online news presence (, but in the summer of 2010 we started a quarterly broadsheet edition. The paper sells for $1 in about 50 retail locations, and has distinguished us from the dozens of contenders in the next wave of journalism in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We have learned a tremendous amount about how to start a print product affordably and creatively, and we want to encourage journalists nationwide to experiment in a medium that many future-of-journalism gurus have prematurely declared dead.

So why was print important when we started up? Several reasons:

  • There’s still a digital divide, so a mission-driven print publication can fill unmet information needs in communities that lack consistent Internet access.
  • Even the most digitally connected news consumers sometimes want to unplug.
  • Street visibility makes a small operation look established, credible and even “steampunk” hip.
  • You can do wonderful things with photography, mapping and full-page illustrations given such a large canvas.
  • Freelancers are motivated by print bylines, and deadlines provide an opportunity to rally the volunteer troops.
  • You can make money through sales.
  • It’s a tangible membership benefit.

In evangelizing experiments in print startups, we would love to convene a working group to discuss an approach that can be applied to many communities across the country, perhaps even better than in San Francisco.

So why should you launch a print experiment right now? One reason is that it’s surprisingly economical.

We produce a newspaper for about $16,000 a year, on top of our editorial, Web and office expenses. This includes the printing of four editions of 8,000 copies each, graphic design, city distribution, software, display news racks, etc. We consider the quarterly newspaper our minimum viable product — but with additional funding we can easily increase frequency of publication.

Since we’ve chosen not to take advertising, we can pack a lot into 16 pages — it’s the same news hole as a typical 40-page commercial daily. To produce the paper, we use off-the-shelf technology: Google spreadsheets, Microsoft Word, email, Dropbox and Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. It’s helpful to have a large-format printer for page proofs.

Print can also help you think about structuring the editorial product in new and exciting ways. Our front-page design wins constant kudos from readers. The first section of our paper offers a showcase of our quarterly team investigative projects on topics such as domestic violence, earthquake safety, the minimum wage and climate-change regulation. The second section features a dozen or so stories and talk-show transcripts from our local nonprofit news partners — public broadcasters, news services, magazines and neighborhood newspapers.

It’s kind of an Utne Reader for local public media. Your partners will appreciate being asked to show off their premiere reporting, and will usually give it to you for free.

But most importantly, from a business perspective, print can also become a cornerstone of a strategic expansion of fundraising, marketing and partnerships. It’s a way to distribute donation envelopes for a membership program. It lets you test methods for reaching new readers and prospective supporters. Beyond the few hundred papers we mail out to individual members, and those we deliver to retailers (the first round of sales calls is admittedly hard), we also give free copies to senior, community and public health centers — places where we wouldn’t expect to sell many copies, but which have clear public-information needs.

In considering whether to try print, an online news organization should first be clear about its main goal. Is it visibility? Credibility? Membership? Profit? Once you decide, have fun experimenting! Bring in your stakeholders to use techniques of community-centered design to create a prototype. If something doesn’t work, do it better the next time. Rinse and repeat — and give it at least a year.

We at the Public Press have gained enough experience in this area to help other organizations get started and we’d be glad to do site visits, if travel is feasible.

The most delightful thing about the new news revolution is that there are as many models as there are startup organizations: ownership type, business model, geographic scope, topic focus, publication schedule, professional-amateur mix, tech platforms, etc. Many startups are also hooking up synergistically with public and commercial broadcasters to get their reporting in front of wider audiences.

In our experience, print is another synergistic opportunity that helps diversify the field, and makes it more likely that we can collectively expand to fill the voids left by the shrinkage of the old local-media monopolies.

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Types of Revenue for Nonprofit Newsrooms Thu, 23 May 2013 14:45:27 +0000 0 Report: The IRS and Nonprofit Media Mon, 04 Mar 2013 07:00:02 +0000 Today the Council on Foundations and the Knight Foundation released the report in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with a panel discussion that features journalism, legal, and nonprofit leaders, including INN’s CEO Kevin Davis. Read the report and watch the discussion on the Council’s website.

Watch the video.

Already, in response to the report, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski sent a letter to Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew, recommending the report’s findings be considered carefully. Download the letter.

The IRS and Nonprofit Media: Toward Creating a More Informed Public

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Michael Maness on Knight Foundation’s Priorities and Ensuring Impact Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:33:51 +0000 In a new Nieman Lab podcast, Joshua Benton interviews Knight Foundation’s Michael Maness. The interview is a must-listen for anyone in the foundation-funded journalism space. From Benton:

If you pay much attention to the journalism innovation world — or if you’ve been reading this site for long — you know that Knight is the biggest of big dogs in the space. They give more than $30 million a year to a mixture of startups, news organizations, coding projects, and other ventures they believe will help support the information needs of communities. Name a prominent nonprofit news outlet or journalism school — or, increasingly, a news-related open source project — and there’s a pretty good shot Knight has either funded it or been asked to fund it. (That includes — disclosure! — this website, which has received Knight funding.) You could get a pretty good idea of the journalism-innovation zeitgeist just by looking at who Knight is funding at any given moment.

Read the full article on Nieman Lab, or download the podcast directly.

Via Nieman Lab.

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How to Succeed from Failure Sun, 13 Jan 2013 13:28:59 +0000 It’s a new year and that means you can make a fresh start, have a clean slate and take a new approach to running your news operation.

You may have had some initiatives or projects that didn’t work out or were a complete failure in 2012. It’s not time to think that the failure is it and that it’s time to pack the bags. It’s time to think quite the opposite.

There is a lot that can be learned from those projects or initiatives that failed. We have a few tips to help you in taking a different approach and how to succeed from those failures in 2013.

Constructive or Defensive Strategy

First, it’s important to recognize that the daily decisions you are making may be constructive or defensive for your news operation and that can impact how your operation moves forward or backward.

In a recent book chapter I wrote in Newsroom Decision-Making: Under New Management, an edited work by Associate Professor George Sylvie at the University of Texas at Austin, I explain a constructive or defensive strategy can lead the news organization on the path toward success or catch-up.

“The defensive strategy can be defined as those managers who react to the changes versus those a step ahead of the game…The stakes are high in this mode, where innovations must succeed and there is no room for failure. In addition, this strategy focuses on maximizing production via efficiency and outsourcing when possible because of its economic mandate of doing more with less to make a profit or just maintain the status quo.”

We have seen many news organizations fall into this defensive strategy by peer pressure from the competition with an all-or-nothing approach to projects that can be detrimental to the organization in the long run.

On the other hand, the constructive strategy focuses on how managers need to proactively think of the next change or innovation they need to make.

“Creativity is the main goal and identifying contributions and improvements are characteristics sought in the innovations adopted. It can be inferred that risk is needed, failure is okay, and trying over and over again is welcomed. The focus is on doing less, and more on identifying a niche to perfect.”

The constructive strategy allows for the failures to occur but the key point is making sure that those failures are learning experiences that bring the organization to its next step toward perfecting what it can do best.

Embracing Failure, Taking Smarter Risks

As Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen state in the book, The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, “by embracing failure as a vehicle for learning, innovative companies embolden their employees to try new things.”

Part of this process of learning from failure entails taking risks to pursue innovation and change, but making sure those risks are smart risks.

Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen state that smart risks are, “hiring and developing discovery-driven people and institutionalizing processes that supports people’s questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, and associating.”

To help recognize if your organization is taking smart risks, Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen provide a list of questions in the book:

  • Does your organization encourage people to take risks in order to learn from them?
  • Does your organization reward people for learning from failures? Or is punishment its default response?
  • Can you name at least one successful innovation when your company celebrated learning from at least one failure to make the innovation ultimately work?
  • Has your company built a higher-than-average discovery quotient in its people to ensure against the inherent risks of disruptive innovation?
  • Do your company’s top managers understand that they need to take risks and fail frequently in order to innovate?

Answering each of these questions can help you to see exactly how you and your staff have handled past failures and if you are engaging in smart risks. If you are not taking smart risks, 2013 may be the time to consider doing so as you revisit the failed projects and initiatives from last year.

Ecosystem Mindset

Another approach to take in moving forward from the failures of the past toward success can also come in the form creating a different kind of mindset.

Associate Professor and Media Management Scholar George Sylvie explains in the Newsroom Decision-Making: Under New Management book that news managers can utilize an ecosystemic perspective to decision-making.

This ecosystemic perspective entails how much the news operation can rely on networks. Networks can include the different kinds of audiences you serve, your board members, donors, other news organizations you collaborate with on news projects, and so forth.  These networks all play a role in the ecosystem in which your news organization is a part of.  Harnessing those networks and nurturing the creativity, collaboration and knowledge-building facets among your staff and your networks, can make a difference when it comes to the long-term and short-term decisions that are made.

This perspective entails a different mindset of viewing the news operation as one part of a bigger network in which aspects of autonomy and collaboration are extended beyond the newsroom walls, and where the value of knowledge and creativity are embraced. Thus, smarter risks can be made as a result.

The new year presents an opportunity for you and your staff to revisit what worked and didn’t work last year. It’s only by seeing what has failed can you and your staff know where to improve and how to get better. Implementing new decision-making skills, strategies and mindsets may be one route to helping your news operation thrive and succeed in 2013.

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via photopin cc

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The Elevator Pitch For Mission-Driven News Nonprofits Mon, 20 Aug 2012 21:51:21 +0000 You’ve heard this premise before: You’re standing in front of an elevator and, as the doors open, in front of you is the key individual that you’ve tried for months to get on the phone.

Once you’re in the elevator you realize you have only 30 to 60 seconds to make the right impression and get him or her to take note.

While this scenario may not play itself out quite as dramatically in the real world, as nonprofit news executives we often find ourselves in situations where we have to articulate what we do, why we do it, and why anyone else should care – and we have to do it quickly.

There are many articles available to business executives, entrepreneurs and sales professionals with tips on how to deliver the perfect elevator pitch (read herehere and here for a few examples).

However, a nonprofit leader has the added complexity of having to articulate the unique qualities and value of his or her mission-driven organization to a wider range of constituents including foundations, corporate underwriters, advertisers and, of course, members of the audience that you serve.

In “The Art of the Elevator Pitch: 10 Great Tips,” Audrey Watters succinctly lays out the attributes of a successful elevator pitch for business professionals. Here’s my modified version for nonprofit news executives:

  • Brevity – While we all love to talk about how we got here, that’s not the purpose of the pitch. Keep your focus on what your organization is doing.
  • The Headline – In order to entice someone to want to dig in further, you must grab his or her attention (hint: it isn’t, “Do you know how many journalists have been laid off?”). Instead, focus on the need for your organization and how you are uniquely positioned to meet that need.
  • Pitch your organization, not yourself – You are running an organization with a mission bigger than yourself, make sure the person standing across the elevator understands this.
  • Don’t forget the “ask” – You want something. They know that. Be as articulate in what you want from someone as you are in articulating the need.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details – We all have a tendency to pile on and share everything. People don’t have the attention span or the will to sift through multiple data points to understand what you are asking and whether it really is important to them.
  • Practice – If this is not natural to you, you are not alone. What separates good communicators from the rest is the apparent ease of delivery. Make sure you are well practiced in your pitch for all your potential types of targets.
  • Follow-up consistently – Once you’ve made a good impression, you’ll want to follow up with an email. Make sure the two communications are consistent.
  • Pivot – We’ll be talking a lot about this in the upcoming Community Journalism Executive Training program in October, but remember to evolve your thinking and your presentation as your organization matures.
  • Get your voice out there – There are lots of opportunities from INN and other like-minded organizations to share your knowledge and display your thought leadership. Individuals who receive your pitch will likely Google you and your organization. Make sure that they can find you and validate the newly-minted impression of you as a leader in your field.
  • Listen – Ultimately, the only way to know if you’re being successful in your pitch is to hear feedback. Having been delivered your pitch, your target individual is likely to say things that will help you.

For more info on elevator pitches:

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Terms & Conditions: Staying on Top of Your Legal Obligations Tue, 07 Aug 2012 21:31:31 +0000 We’ve all signed up for some new technology – something that is going to make things easier, faster, better, less expensive – and then when the message pops up, saying “I have read and accept the terms and conditions,” we click to accept without a second thought. No lawyers are involved, there are no hours spent pouring over dense legalese.

However, as executives and publishers we have an obligation, not only to read the legalese and the fine print, but to stay atop of it all. Every legally binding contract involves rights and obligations that must be met in order to avoid a significant risk to your organization, and even to you individually.

I’m not an attorney, and so this is not legal guidance, but I have included here a few pointers for keeping track of contracts.

1. Print Everything – For those of you trying to save the world one piece of paper at a time, this is hard advice to take. However, it’s vital to keep copies of all agreements in a file. Also back up a digital copy (like a PDF) of any executed contract.

2. Read carefully– When I worked at a large media organization, it was expected that I had read every contract and agreement cover to cover, and would not sign without legal review. And, in a perfect world, that’s good advice. However, not all of us have ready access to legal professionals in a timely manner. If you choose not to have a lawyer read a contract but instead review it yourself, pay particular attention to these kinds of sections which are common in media-centric contracts:

  • Definitions – These may seem obvious, but being clear on what is what up front is very important.
  • Contract clauses/obligations – These sections are specific to the types of deals that the contract covers. For example, advertising contracts have clauses that deal with inventory availability, ad placement and positioning; content licenses have clauses that deal with licenses, exclusivity, revenues and delivery costs.
  • Term & Termination – Understanding this section is critical. It spells out not only how long the agreement lasts, but how and when it can be renewed or cancelled.
  • Representations & Warranties – This section usually spells out the basis of the agreement stating that each party has the right to enter and what happens if there’s a problem.
  • Confidentiality – Understanding who can say what and how about the deal is critical to understand up front.
  • Governing law – This is critical in two areas: 1. Having to assert your rights or defend them in a state that you do not work or reside in can be costly, and 2. There are tremendous differences in state law as it relates to contracts. Some states are business friendly, others are not. Taking the time to research and understand this, particularly in non-standard contracts that you are entering into on behalf of your company, can be critical.

3. Calendar deadlines – Keeping track of when you enter into a contract, when you can cancel a contract and when it may renew (especially automatic renewals without written notification) is key in staying on top of your agreements. Too often, organizations enter into agreements and then down the road assume that the contract is no longer in force. But that’s not how it works, and it’s important to understand how long you and your partners are on the hook.

4. When in doubt, get a lawyer – Given all the hard work our organizations put into creating their content, seeking legal assistance to insure that you are safeguarding your organization is always a good idea. Having a lawyer on staff or on your board is best. For those who do not however, INN recommends the Digital Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard when seeking Pro Bono or near-Pro Bono legal resources that specialize in media and news.

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Business Tip: Following Up After Making the Deal Mon, 16 Jul 2012 21:07:29 +0000 We’ve all had them. The kind of uplifting conversations when everything you say, the other person on the end of the line intuitively understands and in return say the one word you wanted to hear: “Yes!”

OK, you’ve nailed the deal. Now what?

Too often people negotiating with partners, clients, prospective employees and even their landlords do not take the next three simple steps to insure what has been agreed upon – before the details are lost to vagaries of today’s multi-tasking brain.

First and most crucially, take notes during the call. For reporters this would seem to be second nature, but I cannot tell you how many times I have been on conference calls where after the phone is hung up everyone looks around and says, “You took notes, right?”

Second, draft a quick email thanking everyone for their time and summarizing the general terms and structure of the agreement. Generally this would be in informal language and should be sent as soon as possible after the conversation to capitalize on all that good will. If the deal requires any level of deliverables, timing, dependencies or any type of complexity, I strongly advise letting all concerned know you will be following up with a detailed summary.

I’ve been advised on occasion that such detail in writing can lead to problems down the road if there are legal points or at least, a lawyer should review the summary document before it goes out. Certainly if you have a lawyer on hand this is never a bad thing, but time is of the essence. Too often details shift or minds change when memory meets reality after the fact.

My practice is to layout the key points of the deal including all deliverables expected of either party, the timing of such deliverables, the dependencies upon which each deliverable is expected, and whether a legally-binding contract or Memorandum of Understanding will be required before the deal can be completed.

Remember, emails can always be forwarded, so confidentiality is not something that can be expected in this form of communication, no matter what you call the email or put at the top.

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