New York University to launch Membership Puzzle Project to advance sustainability and trust in journalism with $515,000 in new funding – Knight Foundation

New York University to launch Membership Puzzle Project to advance sustainability and trust in journalism with $515,000 in new funding

Support from Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund and First Look Media will help bring Dutch startup De Correspondent’s membership model to the United States

NEW YORK — March 28, 2017 — New York University will develop new innovations in audience engagement and spread successful membership models to journalists across the country with $515,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, First Look Media, and the Democracy Fund. The university will launch the Membership Puzzle Project, working closely with Dutch news startup De Correspondent, to bring its successful membership model to the United States.

De Correspondent announced its expansion to the U.S. market today.

“De Correspondent has had more success with the membership model in funding journalism than any site in the world,” said Jay Rosen, professor at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, who will lead the project. “In the years ahead, more and more U.S. news organizations are going to be looking to draw revenue from readers in order to sustain themselves. What De Correspondent knows about that challenge is thus extremely valuable to American journalism.”

Rapid disruption of the news industry in the last decade has given rise to a pressing need for new approaches and business models for supporting journalism. News organizations have struggled with sustainability and revenue generation. In addition, trust in journalism continues to decline, affecting journalists’ ability to build a loyal supporter and subscriber base.

To address these challenges, New York University will use funding from Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and First Look Media to help introduce a membership model to the United States that is highly successful in the Netherlands, in collaboration with American journalists and experts. De Correspondent currently has 56,000 members paying about $63 per year with an 80 percent renewal rate. The organization is a world-class leader in membership and building audience trust through development of a “social contract” with supporters. For example, members “follow” writers who have self-defined beats and writers are required to bring readers into the process by sharing what they are reporting on and asking for help. The site is ad-free and does not rely on clickbait.

Lessons learned from this model can help address challenges many news organizations now face with trust and sustainability. At the same time, De Correspondent can benefit from what has been learned by American news companies and nonprofits that have been using membership and engagement models—in some cases for decades.

To this end, New York University will work with De Correspondent to adapt its membership model to the U.S. and create a new resource hub for people interested in reader-supported journalism by:

  • Launching a real-time open journalism lab at NYU for U.S. news organizations to learn from a world leader in membership, and share their own experiences with successful membership models.
  • Studying how membership has worked (and not worked) in the American context and synthesizing the lessons of that experience.
  • Building a “brain trust” and community of practice among experts and innovators in membership in the U.S.
  • Spreading best practices, driving adoption and teaching American journalism what De Correspondent knows about how to make membership — and its social contract — work.

“This project will bring important lessons to U.S. journalists about how to inspire both public and financial support for journalism’s important role in informing communities,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “Trust in media is at an all-time low. We need new models for journalists to learn how to rebuild both trust and relationships with audiences and how that can create a path to sustainability.”  

“A healthy democracy requires a free and robust press that responds to the needs of its communities and holds power to account. We believe this project can be a catalyst for creating new ways of supporting and strengthening the Fourth Estate,” said Josh Stearns, Associate Director of Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program. “The future of news is rooted in service to our communities. That means rethinking the relationship between readers, revenue and reporting.”

Rosen will serve as De Correspondent’s first ambassador in the United States, in addition to leading the project and running the NYU lab. For more than three decades, Rosen has led the conversation about the value and importance of journalists engaging with the public to build trust, strengthen journalism and support sustainability.

Support to New York University forms part of Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund’s efforts to support the sustainability of journalism and build trust. Knight has made many investments in this area, including its open call for ideas to support trust in journalism, which is co-funded with Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation and is accepting applications until 5 p.m. ET April 3.

For more information on the Membership Puzzle Project, visit

About New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute

New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute offers undergraduate and graduate education at one of the world’s foremost research universities. Undergraduates pursue double majors in journalism and a wide variety of other fields while master’s students choose from among 10 specialized programs that focus on subjects such as science and health, business and economics, culture, national and international affairs, and web innovation. Founded in 1831, NYU is a member of the selective Association of American Universities, with degree-granting campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai and 11 other global academic sites around the world.

About De Correspondent
De Correspondent is an ad-free Dutch journalism platform with 56,000 members paying either 60 euros a year (about $65) or 6 euros a month ($6.50). It is founded in 2013 by editor Rob Wijnberg, with publisher Ernst-Jan Pfauth, creative director Harald Dunnink and CTO Sebastian Kersten. De Correspondent aims to launch a U.S. edition in the near future: The Correspondent.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

About First Look Media

A bold, independent spirit defines everything we do at First Look Media – from journalism that holds the powerful accountable, to art and entertainment that shape our culture. Launched by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, First Look Media is built on the belief that freedom of expression and of the press, diverse voices, and fiercely independent perspectives, are vital to a healthy democracy and a vibrant culture.


Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 301-908-2646,

Lauren Strayer, Director of Communications, Democracy Fund, 202-420-7928, [email protected]