About the report Datasets Video Key takeaways

The report explores how 18 organizations raise and spend money and the role that reach and engagement play in their efforts to connect with audiences and derive revenue from those connections.
Organizations that participated in the study fall into three broad categories: Some focus primarily on local city or town news, some on statewide reporting and others on investigative projects at the regional or national level.

The report is organized into three sections that reflect areas considered essential to sustainability:

  • Social value creation – The ability to create unique and relevant content, and to attract, understand and engage audiences in ways that produce measurable impact.
  • Economic value creation – The ability to grow multiple revenue streams to support the mission of creating content, engagement and impact.
  • Organizational capacity – The infrastructure, resource allocation and skills that enable an organization to adapt and innovate as it creates social and economic value.

  • Data and analysis in these areas builds on a review that Knight Foundation produced two years ago, Getting Local: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability, which examined eight local news startups. Two years later, the 18 organizations in this study demonstrate significant progress, but they still face some challenges. As such, the report provides a benchmark for nonprofit news organizations and funders to develop new strategies and models for future growth.

    In addition to the comparative data contained in the report, click on any of the thumbnails below to view individual datasets for the 18 nonprofit news organizations that participated in the study. You can also download them as a pdf here or the complete excel file here.

    The Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation co-hosted a roundtable Sept. 20, 2013, on the future of nonprofit journalism. The discussion reviewed data from a June Pew Research Center report on the financial sustainability of nonprofit news organizations and an early draft of the Knight report.

    Built for sustainability: The most successful nonprofit news organizations that have momentum exhibit the following traits:

    1. Attack your assumptions, always. They regularly develop ways to gather insights on who their audience is and what their audience cares about. They incorporate that feedback to pitch sponsors, refine membership programs and tailor user experiences.

    2. Pursue the greatest overlap between niche and need. Their strategy grows out of observing the market in which they operate and identifying a balance between two extremes – coverage that’s so broad it’s hard to build a community around it while so narrow that it creates long-term financial challenges. Their answer to “who is your audience?” is never “everyone.”

    3. Provide services, don’t just publish. They recognize that their business isn’t about publishing and advertising, but about developing and marketing experiences for individuals that are rich in information and connections. They think beyond their website and see events, community discussions and partnerships as content that’s created in many forms.

    4. Invest beyond content. They devote a significant share of their spending to priorities that go beyond editorial. They invest in marketing, business development and fundraising and see these activities as core to their operation, rather than something done “after-hours.”

    5. Measure what matters. While they track traditional cumulative Web metrics such as monthly unique visitors, they focus on indicators that offer feedback on repeat user engagement. They combine this data with qualitative narrative accounts on how their reporting affects their target community.

    6. Strive for diversity in funding. They aggressively look for ways to step down foundation funding and to raise dollars from their community through sponsorship, events and individual donations. These revenue sources are prized because they offer greater independence in reporting and more flexibility strategically.

    7. Bolster the brand by building partnerships. They offer their content to others to reach key audiences and structure those partnerships to derive the following benefits: opportunities to prominently market their brand, feedback and business intelligence on the audience their content reaches and fees from syndication.

    8. Move to where your audience is. They understand the changing habits of how individuals consume information. They don’t only focus on the home page of their website; they’re building responsive design and prioritize social media.

    This report is based on a detailed analysis of 18 nonprofit news organizations between 2010 and 2012, and their progress towards sustainability.

    • Learn about this report
    • View organization datasets
    • Watch the video
    About the report
    The 18 News Organizations
    Knight-Pew Roundtable
    Key takeaways
    John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
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    200 South Biscayne Boulevard
    Miami, FL. 33131-2349
    (305) 908-2600

    The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. The Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change

    This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 3.0 License.