Articles by

Michele McLellan

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    Michele McLellan is senior program consultant to Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is co-author of “News Improved: How America’s Newsrooms Are Learning to Change” and “Digital Training Comes of Age.” Below, she writes about a new report, “Digital Leads: 10 Keys to Newsroom Transformation.” As traditional news organizations move to digital platforms, new skills and tools are essential. But other factors – leadership, strategic goals, an open organizational culture and staff ownership – are also critical for successful transformation. Those are key lessons of the  $10 million Knight Newsroom Training Initiative and of Knight-supported training and coaching for more than 100 news executives at the Knight Digital Media Center at USC/Annenberg since 2006. Building on those lessons, the center developed a process to speed the digital transformation of Journal Media Group (formerly E.W. Scripps) newsrooms in 13 local markets. Knight Digital Media Center, acting as a consultant, has worked with the newsrooms for more than two years. The effort is far from complete. But a new report, “Digital Leads: 10 Keys to Newsroom Transformation,” looks at some of the lessons we’ve learned. Among them: •      When journalists learn to conduct, analyze and act on consumer research, they more readily embrace digital change and create content and engagement that connect with digital news consumers.
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    Photo credit: Flickr user The Texas Tribune. At The Texas Tribune, events represent a successful marriage of mission and money. The nonprofit news site, which covers Texas state politics and policy, is an events powerhouse. Trib events, which focus on state affairs, help the organization raise about one-fifth of its annual revenue and engage thousands of people in state affairs. The Tribune is one of 18 nonprofit news startups that were part of a new Knight Foundation study, “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability.” Fifteen of the organizations in the study stage events as a means of community engagement but only four, including the Tribune, reported significant revenue from them. (The others were NJSpotlight, the St. Louis Beacon and MinnPost.) RELATED REPORT "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability" The full data for Texas Tribune is also available online "News nonprofits must balance capacity, growth of new revenue" "Survey provides insight into who reads nonprofit NJ Spotlight" "Syndication is paying off for the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting" "The addict audience" "Membership increases revenue, community at nonprofit Voice of San Diego" The Tribune’s signature event is the annual Texas Tribune Festival, or Tribfest, a weekend of debate and discussion (dubbed “Woodstock for Wonks”) with more than 100 speakers and 40 interactive events. Attendance runs as high as 3,000 people, and the event nets nearly $400,000, said Evan Smith, the Trib’s editor-in-chief and CEO. Other events include Tribune Conversations with prominent officials and newsmakers, which Smith moderates; The Hot Seat, a statewide series of events featuring local legislators and hosted by local universities; and one-day symposiums that feature experts, newsmakers and Tribune journalists discussing an important issue of the day, such as health care.The Tribune staged 52 events in 2012, producing nearly $875,000 in revenue with expenses of just $220,000. Events generated 19 percent of total revenue in 2012, the third largest source after individual donations and content sponsorships. About 80 percent of the event revenue came from sponsorships, with the remainder from ticket sales and foundation support. Smith said the Tribune expects to stage 60 to 70 events in 2013 and projects event revenue of more than $1 million, about one fifth of expected total revenue. Maggie Gilburg, director of development, said Texas Tribune sponsorships range from $3,000 up to $175,000 for a suite of events. But money is not the only benefit. Events also provide a point of connection for donors. Gilburg said 37 percent of the Tribune’s donors RSVP’d to attend an event in 2012. The events are a key part of the Tribune’s mission of engaging Texans in politics and public affairs, and they help raise its profile as a valuable source of news, information and knowledge.
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    Photo credit: The Center for Investigative Reporting on Facebook The Center for Investigative Reporting is turning content distribution partners into paying customers. Like many nonprofit investigative news organizations, the center has offered free or low-cost content to distribution partners, such as newspapers, to get its work in front of as many people as possible. But that’s not a formula for long-term financial sustainability. Now that the California-based center has established itself, it’s looking to increase revenue from syndication.  “We are trying to figure out our next phase. Our strategy is that we charge for content,” said Robert Rosenthal, the center’s executive director. Syndication was a small but fast-growing revenue stream in “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” Knight Foundation’s recently released study of 18 nonprofit news organizations. Eleven reported revenue from syndication, which also offers news organizations wide exposure for their content and brand. RELATED REPORT "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability" The full data for the Center for Investigative Reporting is also available online "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability" The full data for Texas Tribune is also available online "News nonprofits must balance capacity, growth of new revenue" "Survey provides insight into who reads nonprofit NJ Spotlight" "The addict audience" "The Texas two-step: Journalism and events for a successful partnership at the Tribune" "Membership increases revenue, community at nonprofit Voice of San Diego" The growth in the Center for Investigative Reporting’s revenue from this source stood out. The center reported total revenue from syndication of $403,000 in 2012, up from $47,000 two years earlier. However, it was a small share of the center’s 2012 revenue of more than $12 million. But Rosenthal believes it has significant potential. In 2013, the center hopes to raise about $700,000 from syndication, or 6 to 7 percent of its total budget. Rosenthal said syndication arrangements with the center’s network of 13 California newspaper and broadcast partners will bring in more than $250,000 in 2013. The California network has been the nonprofit’s core but Rosenthal said the center wants to attract more national news organizations as syndication partners. National partners include Univision, the Spanish-language broadcast television network and an emerging relationship with CNN. “Our model for distribution has changed in the past couple of years as we've both grown and expanded our editorial reach and production cycle,” Rosenthal said. “Some stories are distributed widely to multiple news organizations and others may be an exclusive.” Similarly, the center might produce video for broadcast outlets, such as PBS NewsHour, or it may lend “reporting muscle” to a partner such as CNN, which produces its own video. In 2013 the Center for Investigative Reporting produced two high-profile investigations with CNN. One, developed with the Tampa Bay Times, exposed charity fraud nationally. Another exposed fraud in taxpayer-funded drug rehabilitation in California. Rosenthal hopes to develop the CNN partnership and produce more revenue. “They paid us what I consider a small fee relative to the amount of time we spent and the reporting we did in the co-production,” he said. “For our next round of talks with them we will discuss all of this. I believe some of this is proving proof of concept. So much of this, from my perspective, is building trust and credibility.”
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    Above: Data on Voice of San Diego from "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability."  Voice of San Diego is banking on membership, not only for revenue but to strengthen its ties to its community. Scott Lewis, CEO of the nonprofit news organization, believes attracting local residents to contribute recurring membership fees will play a critical role in Voice of San Diego’s financial future. It’s also part of a larger strategy of building community loyalty through events and online interaction, he said. Voice of San Diego is one of five nonprofit news organizations with membership programs in a new Knight Foundation study of 18 organizations, “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability.” Voice of San Diego, launched in 2005, produces news and investigative journalism focused on local government and politics, education and the environment. RELATED REPORT "Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability" The full data for the Voice of San Diego is also available online "News nonprofits must balance capacity, growth of new revenue" "The Texas two-step: Journalism and events for a successful partnership at the Tribune" "Syndication is paying off for the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting" "The addict audience" "Survey provides insight into who reads nonprofit NJ Spotlight" Voice of San Diego reported 1,338 members in 2012, more than double the 2010 total. Members contributed an average of $150 each for a 2012 total of more than $200,000. The nonprofit’s total revenue in 2012 was nearly $1.4 million. Lewis said a steady stream of small member donations is just the start.  “Why pursue membership so fiercely? We believe it’s not inconceivable to build a 5,000 to 10,000 strong membership base,’’ Lewis said, noting that the public radio station in San Diego has 50,000 members.  At an average donation of $100 a year, Voice of San Diego could raise $500,000 to $1 million a year, he said. “More importantly, this would be a massive base for attendance at events, readership and a major source of credibility in applications for foundation grants and sponsorships,” Lewis said. The membership base is also a vital source of leads for major donors and sponsors, Lewis said.  “We’ve learned that it’s very difficult to approach people who don’t know about [Voice of San Diego] for major funding. By contrast, it’s much, much easier to ask members to give more.” Voice of San Diego has four levels of membership and benefits include being “part of an inner circle that is invited to participate in our discussions and attend our special events,” Lewis said, as well as e-newsletters, a first look at special investigations and an insider newsletter, and a subscription to VOSD Quarterly magazine.
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    The Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service covers many local issues including, the arts, economic development, health, public safety and education. Photo credit: Tessa Fox. In 2012, the Knight Community Information Challenge awarded a grant to the Zilber Family Foundation and United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee to increase news coverage of local issues by expanding the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. In this Q&A, Tony Shields, executive director of United Neighborhood Centers, and Sharon McGowan, editor of the news service, discuss their progress in the past year. What is Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service? Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service grew out of a major initiative by a local foundation to improve the quality of life in three low-income minority neighborhoods. The Zilber Family Foundation and its community partners were concerned that there was very little news coverage of these neighborhoods, and most of it was focused on crime. We thought that high-quality reporting about the revitalization work going on in the communities could help fill that gap, debunk stereotypes and ultimately inspire people to get involved in improving their own neighborhoods.  We cover education, public safety, health, arts and recreation, economic development, housing and other issues. The Knight Community Information Challenge enabled us to expand our coverage to more neighborhoods and do more enterprise and in-depth reporting. Another important component of the project was to develop a plan to generate revenue so we can reduce our dependence on foundation funding.  
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Garry Knight Below Michele McLellan, a Knight Community Information Circuit Rider, writes about two Knight-funded local news projects in New Orleans. In New Orleans, cutbacks at the local newspaper are helping to elevate the profile of two foundation-supported news operations. Paul E. Maassen, general manager of WWNO, said listeners are beginning to take note of news coverage at the local public radio station. The fledgling newsroom was created with support from the Knight Community Information Challenge and the Greater New Orleans Foundation. The station hired a news director in the spring and is now airing at least one local report or interview every weekday. Stories ranging from cultural reports from partner organization Nola Vie to reporting about violent crime and the city’s proliferation of charter schools with another partner, the nonprofit news start-up The Lens. The Times-Picayune newspaper cut back from publishing a print edition seven days a week to only three days a week last fall, saying it wanted to focus on its digital presence. To fill the void, another Louisiana newspaper, the Baton Rouge Advocate, began publishing a New Orleans edition  – some of the content produced by reporters hired away from the Times-Picayune. Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune returned to daily print publication last month; in addition to its home delivery service on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, it is printing a new tabloid that is available on newsstands on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. An early Sunday edition is available on Saturdays. 
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    The following blog post is written by Michele McLellan, a Circuit Rider for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which is accepting applications from community and place-based foundations through July 1. Photo credit: ModeShift on Flickr. Six years ago, the Knight Community Information Challenge set out to encourage community foundations to fill gaps in local information created by shrinking newsrooms. Along the way, though, many challenge winners found that their news and information projects increased civic engagement – in fact, that’s what more than two-thirds reported recently in a survey by FSG. FSG surveyed more than 50 community foundations that have sponsored local news and information projects in the first five years of the challenge, which is accepting applications from locally-focused funders through June 1. Among the overall survey findings: 66 percent reported they had increased community engagement in issues they care about. 74 percent report contributing towards a more informed community, to greater media attention to local issues, and to greater collaboration among community issues. FSG cited these examples: ACT for Alexandria in Virginia created an online town hall called “Ask the city council candidates.” This prompted online discussion and the local Democratic party used questions from the town hall in its final primary debate. The project reports that residents have also been more engaged in local problem solving. For example, during a competition to promote engagement, residents generated 22 different ideas for how to improve the play opportunities for children in Alexandria.
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    Through July 1, we are accepting applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provides matching funding to community and place-based foundations supporting news and information projects. Here, Michele McLellan writes about several mobile projects funded through the challenge. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo is one of a growing number of Knight Community Information Challenge winners looking at mobile platforms to inform and engage local residents. The foundation created Grow 716: Text: Tell: Connect to “give voice to everyone in our region that is concerned about environmental issues in their neighborhood. We recognize that all residents have information and experiences to share,” Kristen Kaszubowski, the foundation’s environmental communications coordinator, said in an email. Kaszubowski said a partner organization, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, is testing the texting project with two campaigns: a truck idling campaign and an air quality campaign. 
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    A data visualization showing the percentage of Boston commuters using public transportations via Metro Boston DataCommon. Through July 1 we are accepting applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provides matching funding to community and place-based foundations supporting news and information projects. Here, Michele McLellan writes about several data-driven projects funded through the challenge. Community Foundations have long known the value of data in leadership decision-making. Now, several foundations are using Knight Community Information Challenge support to make data more accessible to the rest of the community. The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, for example, has created Neighborhood Nexus, a website that contains local data on topics such as demographics, housing, employment and education. Users can compare data and make interactive maps. Within that site, the foundation is building Neighborhood Corner for local leaders. “The target audiences for Neighborhood Nexus are nonprofits, foundations, community development corporations, government agencies, community/civic associations, local media, and so on,” said Tahmida Shamsuddin, director of Neighborhood Nexus. “Neighborhood Corner is for neighborhood leaders – those who are actively organizing or involved in community building programs as well as concerned citizens active in mobilizing local resources to address specific local needs.”
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    The following blog post is written by Michele McLellan, a Knight Community Information Circuit Rider. Photo credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress, via Charlottesville Tomorrow. The current Knight Community Information Challenge is open for applications through July 1.  Today, Knight Foundation is starting to accept applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provides community foundations with matching funds for local news and information projects. Knight launched the challenge as traditional media began to contract, as a way to engage locally-focused funders to step in and help fill information gaps. Deadline June 1, 2013 APPLY NOW!   Over the past six years, though, winners have found that providing access to good information helps promote social change. In fact, nearly half of the 50 challenge winners surveyed recently reported their efforts have brought about policy changes, according to research by FSG. The projects  include: Charlottesville Tomorrow, a grantee of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, which provided in-depth coverage of community water supply plan that added chloramines to drinking water.  The coverage by the online nonprofit news site led to record turnout of citizens at public meetings and ultimately to a decision by elected officials not to use the additive. Wyofile, a nonprofit news site in Wyoming that exposed the dangers of trucking hazardous waste over a scenic mountain highway.  Officials banned the trucking. Wyofile is supported by the  Lander Community Foundation and the Wyoming Community Foundation. “Report and Map It,”  supported by the California Community Foundation, a grassroots campaign to document geographically unequal practices governing car seizures of unlicensed drivers – often undocumented residents. The city of Los Angeles ultimately changed its policy. Foundations also said their efforts  increased media attention to issues important to them. For example, 62 percent said their support resulted in reporting that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Fifty-three percent said the work increased reporting on the issues by other media.