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Report of Journalism That Matters Breakout session

Pros and cons of nonprofit models for journalism

Reported by Jessica Clark


  • angel investors can die or lose interest
  • foundations sometimes tie requirements t o monies
  • hard to fund open-ended innovation--nonprofits often worried about survival


  • can pursue mission
  • can insulate from market
  • don’t have to answer to shareholders

Wally Bowen:
Details of the Mountain Area Information Network Model
Membership model—web hosting, wireless, dial-up Generate and aggregate content while providing a media service

Membership model with vertical integration

Need 1000 members to break even; currently investing in capital expansion

Community news portal: 17,000 unique users per day

Started monetizing it by soliciting public radio-style sponsorships

Encourages other public radio and community stations to use the wireless spectrum in this way

Interested in replicating model around the country

10 full-time employees

Other membership models:

Public-radio style appeal to nonprofit media

How do you run the business?

Local bureaus vs. centralized, top-heavy model

Need to be willing to take a chance on something that’s different from the status quo

Possible to set up some kind of mega site where investigative journalists can propose projects and solicit funding?

NOTE: Paypal allowing related donations to causes, one funding stream

Examples: AlterNet fundraising for Josh Holland; Robert Greenwald soliciting funds to finish films

Chris Peck’s new newsroom: community stock option—enables engagement

Membership model for magazine publishing widely successful: Consumer’s Union, Sierra Club, Smithsonian

How to adopt model: concept of social networking adapted to community-building?

NOTE: The Nation collects members outside of their nonprofit structure so that they can endorse candidates

Magazine as loss leaders to support larger organization...not a viable model for publication-only projects

Cost of paper, ink, mailing, distribution—crippling to magazines

Geneva: Need to think carefully about how effectively we’re collaborating with like-minded orgs

Make sure that projects fit into an effective universe

Does that apply to news projects?

Need to think about the universe of projects

Funders love it when nonprofits work together

Need for a nonprofit media Mashable...a site that tracks and assesses online public journalism start-ups

Aggregating an audience is another useful challenge

Example: Amy Goodman’s audience—could be a cross-pollinated audience for investigative journalism

Evaluate impact of stories and projects—another piece of the research puzzle that foundations are interested in

Nonprofit journalism can be shared if you can set up the appropriate conduits; nonprofits don’t need to compete the same way for-profit projects do

A lot more creative connections can be made

Another example: New America Media—bringing ethnic media content into the English language

NGOs also do a lot of reporting as well

How do we reach individuals? Example: Media Reform Conference—shows passion and interest in this topic

Question of “purity” starts to crop up—who’s giving money to journalism projects, and what are the implications? Where are the ethical lines drawn?

Geneva: make pools of money generic and then tell people the terms under which they’re contributing

Tipjars: research how this is working

Lots of the grants that are out there for local or community projects

Dan Gillmor: Growing community foundation movement in this country Annual meeting: San Francisco

What about news co-ops? Like grocery co-ops…could work with engaged citizens. Partner with existing co-op to attach journalism to it?

114 million Americans members of co-ops—mostly credit unions possible sources of collaboration

Granddaddy: Associated Press

Newspaper Guild: trying to buy Knight-Ridder. Got as close as a lot of business moguls got…too much money in the end, but a good effort to create an employee stock ownership program

Wally: share home page real estate with 2 local independent weeklies, along with the Gannett-owned paper

Cross-posting of content for traffic-building; news websites are eager to work with aggregators

Also providing lots of local, free, useful community information: weather, road reports, free links to artists, etc.

NOTE: there’s a lot of digital divide money out there; a good pool for seed funding

Another model…News Trusts: St. Petersberg Times, Guardian

How to move stories about journalism and models out to a wider audience?

Economic structures that would invite investors but be a nonprofit?

No, would be underwriters, founders…return would be engagement in a worth

Social investors are willing to limit possible return…

Group of that type in Portland, but they still need the 2 percent return

Need almost a generation of transition to see a return--"patient capital"

Long-term, the challenge is to convince people of the value of journalism

A marketing problem: teaching consumers to want a product

NOTE: nonprofit organizations can issue a bond…a form of a loan to raise capital

In a startup model, socially engaged investors can write off failures as bad loan

Can write off a donation as well: pros and cons of each option?

NOTE: centralize information list on Center for Social Media about media and socially conscious investing?

PERHAPS EVEN BETTER: work with Poynter to set up a page on new business models?

Need at these convenings: a lawyer, an MBA, an investment counselor...


Jessica Clark 20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT)20:54, 9 August 2007 (EDT) Research Director, Center for Social Media, American University www.centerforsocialmedia.org

Editor-at-Large, In These Times magazine www.inthesetimes.com 2006 Winner: Utne Independent Press Awards, Best Political Reporting

E-mail and AIM: jessica@buildtheecho.net Skype: jessica_clark