Should metro dailies be replaced by nonprofits or for-profits? – Knight Foundation

Should metro dailies be replaced by nonprofits or for-profits?

ISOJ is a hybrid hit, INN Days goes virtual with regional meetings

The journalism conference circuit is active again, and with it, so are some of the debates about the future of local journalism. 

At last week’s International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, I moderated a panel titled, “Recreating the local news ecosystem with new models, networking and collaboration.” The panelists were Ken Doctor, CEO and founder of Lookout Local; Liz Dwyer, managing director of Word In Black; Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media; and Jamie Stockwell, the newly appointed executive editor of Axios Local

It was an interesting panel, I think – but, hey, I was the moderator, so I am a tad biased – and what stood out was a debate between Ken and Jamie about Axios Local and its role in the local media ecosystem. I think it’s safe to say Ken was dubious, as were some of the attendees of Axios CEO Jim VandeHei’s appearance at February’s Knight Media Forum. At ISOJ, Jamie pushed back when challenged, and you can see the debate here (as well as the rest of the panel).

The debate about Axios seems to focus on its being a proud, aggressive for-profit player in a space increasingly occupied by nonprofits, and on its strategy of launching in new cities with just one or two reporters. 

While there are many who believe the future of local media will be nonprofit, Knight believes the healthy media ecosystem of the future should include both for-profit and nonprofit newsrooms. Each model comes with tradeoffs: It’s much easier to raise philanthropic funds for a non-profit; it’s much easier to scale and expand a for-profit business, for example. As long as the end result is journalism that helps inform and engage, we’re agnostic on tax status. If the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and MinnPost each serve the Twin Cities, does it matter to consumers whether the former is a for-profit and the latter a nonprofit?

The other issue – launch staff size – raises even more interesting questions. I doubt anyone would suggest two people can effectively cover a city of any size. But is that what Axios is trying to do? When Axios launched in Philadelphia, was its aim to step in as Philly’s primary news source? Of course not. Philadelphia is an increasingly rich media ecosystem these days, with the InquirerWHYYResolve PhillyAl PhillyBilly Penn (you knew I wouldn’t forget that one) and many other strong newsrooms. 

So what is the proper way to look at Axios’s launch? Is it to ask how it can cover Philadelphia with two people? Or to view it as putting two more reporters on the ground in a city that has long been shedding journalists? The days of winner-take-all local media battles are largely over, I suspect. New players are not likely to arrive in town with an intent to dominate but to find and fill coverage gaps. Is that a bad thing? I’m not so sure. 

It’s not that I don’t understand Ken’s concerns or those who spoke up during Jim’s appearance at KMF. Axios is a national brand now expanding into local, and the history of that approach isn’t lined with successes. And it will be telling how Axios Local’s staffing evolves as time goes on. So the debate is probably just starting. And, for some of us, the best part of last week’s debate was that it was in person.

Other News around the horn…


🌎 It’s a Zoom Shindig in Austin. Overall, ISOJ kept Austin weird for the 23rd time, and being back in person allowed for the return of the annual conga line of hugs with organizer Rosental Alves. Hot topics included making diversity stick in newsrooms, the big metro nonprofit supernovas, revenue diversification, and the big investment needed to succeed in audio. For some people, it was a return to normal conferences in person, for others it was a virtual visit to Austin, as ISOJ went hybrid. There were parties where people drank together, and parties online on the Shindig platform. Check the photos on Flickr (yes, Flickr!), and videos on YouTube.

🎸For those about to Zoom, we salute you! The Institute for Nonprofit News polled its members and found out they really wanted more Zoom time (or less exposure to COVID variants) so they’ve decided to make INN Days an all-virtual event from June 13-15. They still plan to have smaller, regional gatherings in person. On the plus side, you don’t have to get on a plane and tickets are $10-25. The theme is “Igniting Our Collective Power.” Countdown to Zoom starts now! (Editor’s Note: It’s on Hopin, not Zoom. Writer’s Note: That’s keen.)


🚀Nonprofit news blasts off. And the American Journalism Project helped accelerate the ascent. Galvanizing nearly $90 million in local and national investing (some from Knight Foundation), AJP has a portfolio of 32 nonprofit news outlets around the country, including four startups and two in pre-launch stage. AJP recently released its 2022 Impact Report, with impressive stats such as grantees growing revenues 67% in year one, and projected to double revenues by year three. Plus, nearly half of grantees have a person of color leading the organization, the newsroom, or both. Want to feel the full impact? Sign up for AJP’s webinar about the report on April 27 at 1 pm ET.   


✊🏽 Creators unite! The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism announced its fourth cohort for its Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program, i.e. people building news stuff. The diverse group is from 15 countries and will begin a 100-day online sprint developing newsletters, podcasts, local news and niche websites, and more. Examples include a Syrian TikTok show on friendships, an Indian podcast on menstrual health and a German soccer newsletter. Think globally, create locally.


🤑 Community powered news. As more local newsrooms look toward “reader revenues” (i.e. “hey buckos, pay up!”), there’s another trend that could make this a lot easier: Community News Funds. This involves community foundations working with local news publishers to set up a single fund that takes in donations and supports local news for years to come. Report for America found that seven communities they studied raised $15 million over three years using this model. Want to jump on the bandwagon? Check out a webinar this Wednesday at 2 pm ET.

👩🏽‍💼Building ‘institutions of belonging.’ That’s the goal of the Vision25 collaboration between Maynard Institute, Online News Association and OpenNews to help create anti-racist news organizations, where people of color have a sense of agency and belonging. Part of the collaboration includes a virtual event series, moderated by Maynard’s co-executive director Martin Reynolds. The first episode of 2022 will feature Versha Sharma, the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, with a bonus “after-party” discussion with OpenNews’ Sisi Wei and ONA’s Irving Washington. Think, learn and celebrate this Wednesday at 3 pm ET.

News @ Knight Credits

Written by Jim Brady, with Mark Glaser

Edited by Jessica Clark & Kenny Ma

Produced by Kenny Ma

Executive Produced by Heidi Barker & Jim Brady

Godfathered by Alberto Ibargüen

A Knight + Dot Connector Joint

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