A few things we’ve learned these first four months

We shared in our newsletter on July 2 that we’ve invited our first set of proposals for investment and support. This week, we wanted to take a moment to share some of what we’ve learned in talking with more than 100 Civic News Organizations (CNOs) over the past few months, particularly as it relates to their revenue capacity needs. We also wanted to let you know what we hope to accomplish in these next few months.

We’re finding that we can’t remind ourselves enough about our goals and objectives, and about how important centering all that we do and how we do it in relation to those goals is as we start out. Our grantmaking needs to help:

  1. Increase the resources available to gather and report local news
  2. Grow the number of economically sustainable models for local civic news

Not surprisingly, almost every CNO is under-resourced on the business side. Most CNOs are started by leaders with deep experience in journalism, and many have expressed the desire for help and partners that can fill the gaps in their own skill sets and capacity. This matches up with what INN has found in its annual survey of nonprofit newsrooms. Across the field, according to INN Index, “outlets are lean operations that pour nearly two-thirds of their resources into editorial operations, their core mission. However, they devote less than one-tenth of their budgets to revenue development. That represents an underinvestment by a young field that is working to establish itself, grow and diversify revenue sources.” In commercial media, the ratio is completely flipped.

Not surprisingly, almost every CNO is under-resourced on the business side, so how can we best work together to fill the gaps in their skill sets and capacity?

We think the right amount of spending on revenue generation for CNOs is higher than it is now, and different depending on the stage of CNO growth.

Which leads us to our first set of proposal invitations and the stage that we’re at right now. The proposals we invited will give us an opportunity to work closely alongside a number of organizations on what exactly venture support (strategic planning and advising, building entrepreneurship within CNOs, supporting the hiring and development of revenue generating talent, building connections across organizations, etc.) from the American Journalism Project will look like. The organizations we invited proposals from demonstrated a solid foundation of entrepreneurship and a potential for helping us achieve our mission and goals.

The invited proposals will give us an opportunity to work closely alongside a number of organizations on what exactly venture support from the American Journalism Project will look like.

So, what comes next? Outside of tremendous learning that’s taking place, as mentioned above, we’re also left with some things that we’re grappling with and need to figure out.

We received a lot of inquiries from public media organizations. In a lot of places, public media is the source of local news, and in a growing number of places public media newsrooms are growing through acquisitions and mergers with digital news outlets. What our role and impact might be, we don’t know yet. We do know that we’re interested in seeing ideas and potential for growing news gathering spend from every organization that we engage with. Public media has a different set of challenges, opportunities and constraints, and we anticipate that we will not be making grants to public media in our first few cycles because that’s simply not where our expertise and experience is right now. We need to remain focused on our goals and the organizations that are well suited to help us achieve them at the start.

We will continue to open up new conversations with CNOs who are facing interesting opportunities for revenue capacity growth, and continue the conversations we are already having with organizations. Some of these conversations will lead to proposal invitations, while others may not be projects, however worthwhile, that we can support.

Every CNO that is a member of INN should fill out the application for this year’s NewsMatch matching gift campaign — the deadline is Aug. 1.

We will be updating our inquiry form in the next couple weeks to invite interested CNOs to share more about what their challenges and opportunities for revenue generation and growth are. If you’ve already filled out the form, you don’t need to do it again. If you haven’t heard from us at all yet, or we’ve promised to be in touch, thank you for your patience, and we will be in touch with you soon.

We are learning in public, and are grateful for every single person we have talked with! We will continue to share what we learn. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

Note: This post originally said spending on revenue would be somewhere in the middle of current CNOs and commercial media, which was confusing. We’ve updated to be more clear.