Articles by

Jonathan Sotsky

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    Above image by flash.pro/Edwart Visser on Flickr. In contrast to print journalism and its well-documented struggles, television news has demonstrated remarkable resilience. Local television news viewership has declined slightly in recent years but advertising revenue has increased since 2009. Has TV news found a way of weathering the digital storm that led print journalism to skid off the road? A report released today by Pew Research Center seemingly confirms the strong state of television news at first glance. The report titled “The Modern News Consumer” produced in association with Knight Foundation shows that 57 percent of U.S. adults often get their news from television, surpassing any other source. Among people who prefer to watch rather than read news (46 percent vs. 35 percent), an astounding 80 percent prefer to watch news on television compared to just 12 percent who say they prefer to watch news online. The balance of analog vs. digital platforms is quite the opposite among those who report they prefer to read news, among which 59 percent say they prefer to do so online compared to 26 percent who prefer to read a print newspaper. So, while digital has clearly disrupted the way people read their news, it hasn’t profoundly changed the way they watch their news. But a closer examination of the report data along with lessons from print journalism signals a looming, fundamental shift in how people watch news. More than three times of those in the 65 and older age group report getting news often on TV (85 percent), compared to people ages 18-29 (27 percent). Given the proliferation of mobile video apps and increased preferences for consuming news on mobile devices, it seems likelier than ever that a significant number of news watchers will increasingly shift from plasma screens to mobile, tablet and laptop screens. Though not yet at the point of extinction of the “young print newspaper consumer” (only 5 percent of people ages 18-29 often read print newspapers), the “young television news consumer” should certainly be placed on the endangered species list. Younger generations may also be harbingers of an era of declining trust and loyalty toward media. Less than half as many 18-29 year-olds report having “a lot” of trust in national news organizations compared to those aged 50 and over (10 percent vs. 22 percent). Younger generations also show less loyalty to specific news sources with 28 percent of 18-29 year-olds reporting being “very loyal” to a particular news source compared to 60 percent of adults 65 and over. The skeptical and skittish nature of younger news consumers will certainly challenge news organizations scrambling to attract and engage a consistent consumer base.
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    When it comes to local journalism, stories describing the challenges the industry faces far outpace ones covering promising developments. This makes recent events in Philadelphia’s news ecosystem all the more intriguing, because while no one seems to have the answer for the best way forward for journalism, we know the status quo is insufficient and unsustainable. Related Links "Could it be Sunny in Philadelphia?" report, 6/15/2016 "The Philadelphia experiment: New report offers lessons for news organizations seeking sustainability" press release, 6/15/2016 "Gaining Ground: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability" report, April 2015 Enter Gerry Lenfest, owner of the Philadelphia Media Network (The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, Philly.com), with a new experiment. Lenfest announced in January the creation of a new nonprofit/for-profit hybrid structure called the Institute for Journalism in New Media. The institute intends to sustain and grow journalism in Philadelphia, and elsewhere, by supporting public-interest journalism, digital experimentation and research. Lenfest donated Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) to the institute, which is housed at the Philadelphia Foundation, and seeded it with $20 million with the goal of ultimately raising $100 million to fund its efforts. At Knight Foundation, we’ve supported experimentation with new approaches for producing and funding local journalism, including efforts in Philadelphia where the Knight brothers once owned The Philadelphia Inquirer. But we know that experiments only matter if you document the hypothesis and monitor the results. It’s why we’ve chronicled the development of new journalism models in a prior series of reports on nonprofit news organizations, and why this time we hired Tim Griggs, former publisher and COO of The Texas Tribune, to document the developments and emerging lessons in Philly. The resulting report “Could It Be Sunny in Philadelphia?” offers a keen perspective of what’s occurred, what’s next and key considerations going forward. The new Philadelphia model is not a panacea for the disruption that has media in turmoil. As Griggs quotes news analyst Ken Doctor, “Sprinkling some nonprofit pixie dust won’t save the newspaper industry.” In fact, no single model will likely change the fortunes of local and regional news organizations across the country seeking solutions. But the Philadelphia approach along with other experimental initiatives offer the power to surface lessons and elements for news organizations to harness as they chart new paths for performing and sustaining their work. With that in mind, here are some of the important insights from the Philadelphia experiment:
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Richard Matthews. A hallmark of my time supporting research and evaluation at Knight Foundation has been a close working relationship with our communications team. This partnership has been a key ingredient for the development and dissemination of a series of successful reports Knight has published in recent years. So when I recently encountered a Communications Network blog post lamenting the challenged relationship between evaluation people and communications people, I felt compelled to speak out on behalf of the way our teams have partnered at Knight. If I had to pick a word that binds evaluation and communications together it would be “strategy.” All those fancy tools in the evaluator’s toolkit like the theory of change or logic model (which I’m often reluctant to use with program teams fearing they can do more to alienate than to assuage) are really just communications exercises for teasing out strategy. And both functions will attest that working with program teams early in the life cycle of a grant or an initiative to clarify the goals and tactics is a prerequisite for effective measurement and communications. No Knight project exemplifies the results of strong collaboration between evaluation and communications more than our Civic Tech report, “The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field.” While the research findings captured in the SlideShare were certainly compelling, I have no doubt that the interactive data visualization accompanying the report amplified interest and uptake tenfold; the report’s received 18,150 page views in the first three months of release. The combination of good research and good communications saw an increase in media coverage and discussions around civic tech, as well as a landmark trend in the use of #civictech on social media with 1,734 mentions in the three months following the report’s release. The bottom line? Collaboration between communications and evaluation can go beyond the pages of a report or website and spell impact for an entire field. Furthermore, our communications team was instrumental in building a mechanism into the report for readers to submit additional data to Knight; this both fueled engagement and yielded enough responses for us to release an updated version a few months later with all the crowdsourced data.
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    There was significant fanfare about how turnout for the 2014 midterm elections was the lowest it’s been in 72 years. Look beyond the dramatic headlines and you’ll discover that turnout for national elections has actually been relatively flat over the past half century. What’s been less discussed though is the anemic and declining turnout for local elections. A recent study of turnout for mayoral elections in large cities showed steady declines over the past decade and only 1 in 5 eligible residents showing up to the polls for local elections. Today, Knight Foundation released research about the barriers and motivators for local voting. The research specifically focused on “drop-off millennial voters,” meaning millennials (ages 20 to 34) who voted in the last national election but not in their recent local elections. We know that young adults vote at lower rates than others; through focus groups with millennial drop-off voters in Akron, Ohio, Miami and Philadelphia, this research offers a window into attitudes of millions of millennials voting in national elections but not locally, asking why.
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    Over the past several years, an increasing number of governments, businesses, social sector organizations and technologists have supported efforts to make government data more accessible and useful. Knight Foundation has actively supported this growing Open Government movement, funding organizations such as Sunlight Foundation and Code for America as well as hosting a Knight News Challenge focused specifically on Open Government. Related Links Pew Research Center "Public Is Somewhat Optimistic about Open Data Initiatives Making Government More Accountable, Yet Few Say Government Effectively Shares Data with the Public" -- Press release, 4/21/2015 Yet, Open Government data is not something on the minds of most people according to a study released today by Pew Research Center. In the report “Americans’ Views on Open Government Data,” which was funded by Knight Foundation, only 31 percent of people said they could think of either a positive example of the government providing data or a negative example where the government did not provide enough useful data. Taken conversely, that means 69 percent of people are not thinking much about government data. Even when accounting for the public’s generally low consciousness of government data and initiatives underway to improve its accessibility and utility, the report clearly shows that Americans believe government at all levels could do a better job releasing data. Only 5 percent believe that the federal and state government does a “very effective” job sharing data, and 7 percent say the same for local government.
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    Last year, Knight Foundation profiled the rapidly growing field of civic tech in a report titled “The Emergence of Civic Tech,” capturing $695 million of investments made between 2011 and 2013 to organizations using technology to spur citizen engagement, increase government effectiveness and strengthen cities. Many were excited by the high volume of activity and investment in civic tech and the promise of this growing community. JONATHAN SOTSKY While investment is clear, impact is not. Practitioners and funders alike have lamented the struggle to measure the effectiveness of new civic tech tools, including how they promote civic engagement, social capital and ultimately more participative local democracies. To that end, Knight supported Network Impact to publish a civic tech evaluation guide. “Assessing Civic Tech” features tips, tools and metrics for measuring important outcomes. We hope this will be treated as an initial step in advancing better measurement in the sector and that more sophisticated approaches will develop over time.
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    Radical disruption in the news industry over the past decade has fueled a period of experimentation with new approaches and business models for supporting journalism.  Nonprofit news organizations, principally those focused on local, state and regional news, offer the promise of filling the void left by cutbacks by legacy media organizations to state and local reporting. But how sustainable are the business models emerging from nonprofit news organizations and will they represent a viable long-term component of a healthy local information ecosystem? A report released by Knight Foundation today, “Gaining Ground: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” addresses this question and spotlights promising practices among 20 nonprofit news organizations. The report is the third in a series of studies Knight has produced since 2011. Our studies have gathered comparative data across nonprofit news sites to benchmark their progress on key metrics related to business models and audience engagement. “Gaining Ground” follows up on the 2013 report “Finding a Foothold,” growing the cohort from 18 to 20 organizations and tracking trends over a three-year period (2011-2013).
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    According to a report released today by Pew Research Center titled “Local News in a Digital Age,” nearly nine in 10 residents across three metro areas studied (Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa) follow local news closely. However, the supply of local news and how residents consume and engage with local news varies quite a bit between cities, which vary dramatically by population size and demographics. The report marks the latest installment in a series of research Knight Foundation has funded with Pew exploring journalism and media in the digital age.  It is one of the deepest examinations performed to date of local media ecosystems, and the research provides themes to extrapolate from when considering the evolving state of news in cities across the country. As we know from other research of the news industry, legacy media institutions, including local television stations and daily newspapers, have reduced their resources committed to covering local news over the past decade. This report found a richer network of local news providers exists in Denver compared to the two smaller markets. (According to Pew, the 2009 closing of The Rocky Mountain News “acted as a catalyst for numerous digital media startups”; over 140 news providers were identified in Denver compared to closer to 30 in the other two cities). In turn far fewer Denver residents rely on traditional media organizations for their local news. For example, only 23 percent of Denver residents often get news from The Denver Post compared to 40 percent of Sioux City residents who often get news from the Sioux City Journal.
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    Video by Teach for America Knight Foundation made a $6 million grant to Teach for America in 2009 to support their work in Miami-Dade Public Schools to help close the achievement gap in the county’s highest-need schools. The grant was also designed to answer a key question: Do students who are taught by Teach for America teachers demonstrate persistent academic growth and performance over time?   The grant supported an approach that concentrated the placement of Teach for America teachers in three side-by-side school feeder patterns, the school paths students follow as they move from one level to the next. This “clustering strategy” was designed to account for high moving rates in these high-poverty schools, where nearly 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and better address the question of student academic performance over time. The strategy also enabled “laddering” by which students would be more likely to experience multiple Teach for America instructors over time. Today, American Institutes for Research released its interim report highlighting preliminary findings from its evaluation of the Teach for America clustering strategy in Miami. The final report will more fully explore the program’s impact on long-term learning, but this early assessment provides interesting insights. Some of the key findings include:
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    “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy: Six Lessons on Designing Public Prizes for Impact”  from Knight Foundation was released in 2013 and complements a new report “The Craft of Incentive Design.”  At Knight Foundation we’ve leveraged grantmaking challenges since 2007 to supplement our traditional funding and generate impact in the fields of journalism, arts and community engagement. In May 2013, we highlighted what we’ve learned from more than a dozen open challenges with $112 million in grant commitments in a report, “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy: Six Lessons on Designing Prizes for Public Impact.” Not only did we use the review of our challenge grantmaking to refine our approach, we also saw it as a small step for an emerging field in need of greater assessment and shared learning. Related Press Clipping  "Innovation Contests With Cash Prizes Attract More 'Average Joes' " in The Wall Street Journal (paid membership required) That’s why we welcome the release of a new report today, “The Craft of Incentive Design,” which explores the rise of innovation challenges in the public sector over the last five years. Commissioned by several foundations including Knight, the report captures lessons from an increasingly crowded landscape of contests and challenges about how they can be best used to address issues in the social sector. Both “The Craft of Incentive Design” and our 2013 report show how grant prizes and challenges surface ideas, people and organizations that traditional ways of awarding grants often miss. The reports taken together provide a comprehensive guide for organizations that want to create a successful challenge.
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    Photo credit: Flickr user: maximillion. The social sector is undergoing an important transformation when it comes to research and evaluation. Nonprofits have shifted from asking whether they should measure their work to how to most effectively assess impact. Coupled with the emergence of new approaches for collecting and analyzing data, there’s never been more interest and opportunity for nonprofits and foundations to adopt evidence-based practices in their work. I recently discussed Knight Foundation’s experiences with new forms of research and data visualization during a webinar titled “Data-Driven Strategy in the Social Sector” hosted by Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). Jeffrey Bladt from Do Something and Sean Gourley of Quid, a data analytics firm Knight worked with recently, joined me in providing a small glimpse into how foundations and nonprofits can leverage data to increase their effectiveness and advance knowledge in their fields. Furthering the point that data is on the minds of social sector organizations, 3,000 people registered for the webinar, which set a record for an SSIR webinar. We only had time to address a handful of question from the audience, so here are some additional thoughts related to the most common questions about research and data posed during the webinar and post-webinar survey (I’ll do my best to follow up individually with those who asked questions about the civic tech investment report featured during the webinar).