Tracking best practices in the business of digital news

By Jake Batsell

The byproducts of journalism rarely have value to anyone besides the reporters who gather and assemble the information. (Exhibit A: The troves of spiral notebooks, manila folders and microcassettes left over from my newspaper days, still gathering dust in my garage.)

But more news organizations are discovering that cleaned-up, searchable databases have extra value beyond their journalistic utility — and, better yet, can generate revenue to support even more public-interest reporting.

In February, ProPublica unveiled its Data Store, offering both free and premium data sets to journalists, researchers and corporate clients. Raw data obtained through public records requests can be downloaded gratis; premium data sets polished by ProPublica carry fees ranging from $200 to $10,000.

Roughly four months in, more than 500 data sets have been downloaded from the store, most of which have been the free versions. But the premium data sets have brought in well over $30,000 in revenue, said Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s president.

“The 500 downloads, that’s probably more important from a mission standpoint,” Tofel told me. But those who have paid for the premium sets — so far, mostly companies and consultants from the medical industry — may well become repeat customers down the road, when it’s time to update the data. “I think we would consider it a successful experiment in that sense,” he said.

Data journalism is a specialized, time-consuming skill. It takes a lot of work to find, sort and clean data sets to the point where journalists can meaningfully analyze and report the findings. But once data sets serve their journalistic purpose, they could also have commercial value that, when cashed in, can help defray the expenses of producing watchdog journalism.

The $30,000-plus generated so far by ProPublica’s Data Store by no means covers the costs of reporting and editing a sophisticated investigative project like Dollars for Docs or Prescriber Checkup. Still, as a supplementary revenue stream, it’s enough to at least cover a substantial chunk of a journalist’s salary.

“It’s not a primary revenue source,” said Ryann Grochowski Jones, a ProPublica data reporter who also maintains the Data Store. “But journalism pocketbooks have been on the decline, so it’s encouraging to see that this is a potential revenue-maker.”

Another way to capture value from databases is to monetize attention, as The Texas Tribune has done since 2011 by attaching Google microsurveys to its more popular data apps. Tribune visitors who aren’t logged on to the site must first complete a short consumer survey (or share the page on Google Plus) before they can view the details of a state employee’s salary or a prison inmate’s conviction.

The microsurveys — which earn the Tribune a nickel for each question answered — don’t pop up on data projects already funded by a specific grant, like the Public Schools Explorer. But by attaching the surveys to click-magnet databases including government employee salaries and prison inmates, the Tribune collects thousands of dollars in monthly revenue (in June 2014, survey revenue added up to $17,565).

Monthly pageviews for the Tribune’s salary database, by far the site’s most popular data app, dropped by about 15 percent after the microsurveys were introduced in August 2011, according to Rodney Gibbs, the Tribune’s chief innovation officer. And as a whole, databases account for a smaller percentage of the site’s overall traffic than they did three years ago, although Gibbs said other factors contribute to that trend: The Tribune’s growing editorial staff is producing more stories and video content, and the initial novelty of its data library has worn off.

Still, the question beckons: Is the microsurvey revenue worth a dip in traffic? Gibbs said data apps require frequent updating and maintenance, and the surveys help the site recoup staff costs while keeping the data free to all.

“Without a doubt, it’s a desirable catalog of content,” Gibbs said. “We have to monetize that somehow. So far, [the Google surveys] have been the least intrusive, most mission-compliant way to do that.”

In San Diego, investigative news site inewsource found yet another way to capture the value of data-driven reporting: trading expertise for office space. For nearly three years, inewsource has shared its content with KPBS, the city’s public radio and TV station, as part of a swap that allows the small nonprofit to operate independently out of the KPBS newsroom.

“We both knew this was valuable,” said Lorie Hearn, inewsource’s executive director and editor. “We basically cut a deal that said they would give us space in their newsroom in exchange for our content.”

However you capture its value, data journalism clearly has worth beyond its primary investigative purpose. That’s something news outlets of all stripes should keep in mind as they search for diverse revenue streams to ensure their long-term survival.

“In the end, we are making a product,” Grochowski Jones said. “Just like people make a television report or a newspaper or a radio piece, our databases are a finished product. We put time and work and certainly money into it. So I’m really happy with the balance we’ve struck, and it’s heartening to see that people — others outside of journalism, as well — are willing to pay for the hard work we’ve put into it.”

Jake Batsell (@jbatsell), an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University, is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a Texas Tribune Fellow based in Austin.

By Jake Batsell

This year’s exceptional INN@IRE Lightning Round presenters understand that watchdog reporting doesn’t pay for itself. Sustaining journalism in the public interest requires constant ingenuity on the business side.

Below, you’ll find presentation materials from a half-dozen nonprofit news startups selected to share lessons learned from recent experiments to drive revenue. Ranging from the basics (executing an end-of-year fundraising campaign) to the quirky (auctioning cow sculptures?), these examples demonstrate how entrepreneurial drive and creativity can power accountability journalism in the 21st century.

[If you are intrigued by the dilemma of how digital news outlets can sustain the watchdog journalism that benefits the public, please look out for my forthcoming book, Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences (Columbia University Press, January 2015). As publication nears, I’ll share details about the book’s availability on the NewsBiz Facebook page and my personal Twitter feed.]

Now, on to this year’s Lightning Round presentations:







By Jake Batsell

SAN DIEGO –– Online banner ads only have so many pixels. On news sites, small digital squares and rectangles tend to work best for advertisers proclaiming a concise message, like “click here for an insurance quote” or “browse our summer clothes catalog.”

In Southern California, nonprofit organizations wanting to reach the Voice of San Diego’s civic-minded audience have long raised doubts that a banner ad could effectively get their point across. “It wasn’t enough space for them to really explain and educate people about their mission,” said Mary Walter-Brown, Voice of San Diego’s vice president of advancement and engagement.

So last month, San Diego’s pioneering online news startup quietly debuted a native advertising program aimed at fellow nonprofits. The program, called Partner Voices, publishes article-length “partner promos” that are either paid for by the nonprofits themselves, or on their behalf by a corporate sponsor.

The promos, which carry a monthly fee of $1,500, are clearly labeled as sponsored content. Voice of San Diego’s editorial staff has no role in producing them.

“This was our way to approach native advertising in a fresh, new way that we felt was more in line with our mission,” Walter-Brown said.

Walter-Brown said the sponsorship option gives Voice of San Diego a new way to cultivate revenue from corporate clients who want to publicize their support for civic initiatives. For example, she said, San Diego Gas & Electric is sponsoring 12 Partner Voices promos over the course of a year.

“It allows us to go to an organization or a company that might not have been a traditional advertiser before, but present them with a new opportunity to just build their brand and build their community goodwill,” she said.

Voice of San Diego is one of several nonprofit news outlets to recently join the wider media world’s adoption of sponsored content, also called native advertising. Display ads are confined by the boundaries of the box, but sponsored content allows advertisers more room to make their case — an intriguing option for policy-minded organizations whose arguments and causes are difficult to boil down to a snappy slogan.

Making fuller arguments to an influential audience is a key selling point for The Texas Tribune, which last month began offering “paid placement” to corporate sponsors through its new op-ed site, TribTalk. As outlined in the TribTalk media kit, the Tribune charges $2,500 for a three-day run on the homepage, although permalinks for sponsored content stay up indefinitely.

April Hinkle, the Tribune’s chief revenue officer, said she pitches TribTalk’s paid placement as an opportunity “for thought-leading organizations to be able to post and lead a discussion” beyond what banner ads can provide. Sponsored posts are labeled as such and published against a gray backdrop to distinguish them from unpaid op-eds.

“The goal is to be just as high-quality and thought-provoking as the user-generated (op-ed columns),” Hinkle said.

Just weeks before Voice of San Diego and The Texas Tribune unveiled their sponsored content initiatives, Southern California Public Radio won a $35,000 INNovation Fund grant for a pilot program to explore how nonprofit news outlets can tap into native advertising.

In its grant application, the radio network bluntly summarized the challenge nonprofit news outlets face when ramping up their revenue strategies: “For fear of alienating its audience, public media has cautiously avoided monetizing its content in an overtly commercial manner.” With the grant, Southern California Public Radio says it hopes to “map out the common ground between the interests of its audience, underwriters, and journalistic principles.”

To bring together those potentially competing interests, it is crucial for nonprofit news outlets to clearly explain how native advertising supports their mission, said Kevin Davis, executive director of the Investigative News Network.

“Make very clear what type of organization you are and why you’re doing this, because there is a different level of scrutiny for nonprofits,” Davis said. “Go to the ends of the earth to say, ‘We are a nonprofit, we are mission-driven, and this is an authentic way of furthering the mission –– not just making money.’”

Jake Batsell (@jbatsell), an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University, is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a Texas Tribune Fellow based in Austin.

Editor’s Note: Last week, The Texas Tribune unveiled TribTalk, described by Tribune editor Emily Ramshaw as “an op-ed page for the 21st century.” The Tribune intends to use its sister op-ed site as a mini-laboratory to experiment with new digital initiatives. In that spirit, the Tribune partnered with the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life to implement the “respect” button, an alternative to the “like” buttons and thumbs-up icons used by other news forums and social media outlets. Here, Engaging News Project director Talia Stroud explains the rationale behind the “respect” button. — J.B.

By Talia Stroud

“Like.” Who knew such a small, simple word would become our default reaction? The term is not only an indelible component of casual sentence structure but also governs how we respond to everything from news articles to Facebook comments from our closest friends.

But what happens when you don’t actually “like” something? A heartwarming story about a local hero? That’s easy to “like.” But what about a comment appearing on a news site that is fair but differs from your beliefs? That’s a bit more challenging. What happens if, instead of “like,” one is able to “respect”?

As you may have noticed, the TribTalk comment section doesn’t have a “like” button. Instead, the site provides commenters with a “respect” button, a feature tested and developed by the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin. We believe this button will help Texans find common ground on the tough issues discussed on TribTalk.

How did we come to this conclusion? We started by researching how people reacted to a comment section depending on whether they were able to “like,” recommend” or “respect” other people’s comments. Study participants saw exactly the same comment section, save for one change: Some people saw a comment section where they could “like” other comments, others saw only “recommend,” and still others saw only “respect.”

Through our research, we discovered that respondents were more likely to click on comments expressing different political views when they had a “respect” button to use.

Based on our findings, we think newsrooms should consider using a “respect” button in their comment sections to get people to engage with political views that they may not “like.”

Of course, “respect” is not a cure-all. Politics provokes emotional responses and heated partisan reactions that won’t make all views respectable to everyone. But providing buttons that give commenters room to appreciate views they may not “like” can change how people respond to comments. Given the political polarization facing our country, this may be a way to help citizens find common ground. What better platform to employ this idea than on a nonpartisan site dedicated to sharing opinions?

We’re thrilled that TribTalk is using the “respect” button. It’s a tool we’re very proud of, and one we think can make a difference. We hope readers use it to participate in TribTalk’s comment sections — without having to use that four-letter-word.

Natalie (Talia) J. Stroud, Ph.D., teaches courses in public opinion, media effects and political communication at the University of Texas at Austin. She also is the assistant director at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation.

By Jake Batsell

MINNEAPOLIS — The downtown State Theatre boomed with laughter, applause and satire-drenched showtunes Friday night during MinnRoast, the annual revue where the state’s politicians and journalists “gently skewer” one another to raise money for the nonprofit news site MinnPost.

When your biggest fundraiser of the year is a comedic romp, it doesn’t hurt when your junior U.S. senator happens to be a veteran Saturday Night Live writer and cast member. Sen. Al Franken’s irreverent monologue got the crowd revved up, and headliner Lizz Winstead — co-creator of The Daily Show — kept the laughs rolling with sharply elbowed stand-up bits sprinkled between songs and skits that included a cameo by the University of Minnesota’s marching band and Gov. Mark Dayton vaping away on e-cigarettes. It was a rollicking spectacle, and the crowd of nearly 1,400 went home happy.

More importantly for MinnPost, the show raised roughly $160,000, accounting for about 10 percent of the site’s annual revenue. Once costs are settled up in the coming weeks, MinnPost executives expect that the event’s net proceeds will comfortably exceed six figures, generating serious income that can pay for more of MinnPost’s respected public-interest journalism.

Joel and Laurie Kramer, the couple who co-founded MinnPost in 2007, said the site’s early backers wanted to establish an annual fundraiser that also was lighthearted, in the same tradition as the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C. But they also saw a market opportunity in embracing the fun factor.

Joel Kramer, MinnPost’s CEO and editor and a former publisher of the Star Tribune, noted that the Twin Cities region is saturated with serious events run by civic-minded organizations such as Minnesota Public Radio, the Citizens League and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. From a strategic standpoint, Kramer said, MinnPost thought a fun-themed event had a better chance to attract sponsors and ticket sales than more straight-laced affairs. For seven years running, MinnRoast has proven that hunch right.

“You’ve got to find a spot that’s empty, that’s open,” he said. “And nobody was doing it. … Most events in town are very serious. They talk about the mission, you know, they all have a silent auction. I go to many of them, and I believe in the causes, and we donate money. But they’re a bit on the somber side. So we wanted to distinguish ourselves in that way.”

For too long, news organizations have resisted the idea that engaging their audience in person can actually be fun. In my forthcoming book, Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences (Columbia University Press, January 2015), I argue that the Achilles’ heel of the “civic journalism” movement of the late 20th century was that it deemed engaging its audience to be a solemn “obligation to public life,” as the now-defunct Pew Center For Civic Journalism’s website continues to rationalize.

Today’s most successful news events strategies view face-to-face engagement not as an obligation, but as an entrepreneurial opportunity, as I discussed last year in a presentation at the International Symposium on Online Journalism. News events don’t always need to be fun and games. But why not try to deliver a little levity once in a while when convening your audience in person? GeekWire, the three-year-old startup that has become Seattle’s digital hub for tech news, has an annual ping-pong tournament bash to celebrate its anniversary. WBEZ, Chicago’s storied public radio station, throws chef battles and drive-in zombie movies. Politico Pro hosts trivia nights in Washington, D.C. The list goes on.

All these events generate revenue for journalism by attracting corporate sponsorships. Converting audience attention into sustainable revenue is the essence of engaged journalism, which I define in my book as “the degree to which a news organization actively considers and interacts with its audience in furtherance of its journalistic and financial mission.”

MinnRoast has drawn criticism from cranky journalists who fault it for “giving the impression that we’re buddies with the powerful and political types who shouldn’t be calling us to find out when we’re available for golf or beer.” To be fair, news-themed events — both humorous and serious — do entail a certain sense of coziness with sources, at least during the planning and execution of the events themselves. That can lead to an awkward sense of tension, but it’s a reality that modern news organizations need to navigate as they search for viable business models.

At MinnRoast, newly elected Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges made comedy out of that tension, reading passages from MinnPost articles that have been critical of her fledgling tenure. “Thanks, Joel,” Hodges sarcastically quipped to Kramer.

Yet for all the kid-glove chumminess of MinnRoast, if MinnPost’s watchdog journalism weren’t perceived as credible, neither the event nor the site itself would have lasted for seven years.

That sense of accountability is important to the Kramers, who have run MinnPost since 2007 without drawing a salary. And the site’s supporters reward that clear sense of mission. As Laurie Kramer, MinnPost’s chief revenue officer, puts it: “There’s a lot of personal feeling and attachment to the enterprise.”

I asked Joel Kramer why he and Laurie continue to work for free.

“I can give you the highfalutin answer, which is that we believe in quality journalism,” he said. “We think that this community has an appetite for more of it, and we think it’s good for the community to have more of it. It’s good for democracy and all that.”

“But the other reason is, we’re just having fun,” said Kramer, who sang and danced at MinnRoast while donning a cowboy hat and chaps during a musical skit. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Jake Batsell (@jbatsell), an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University, is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a Texas Tribune Fellow based in Austin.

Editor’s note: This post originally was published by Nieman Journalism Lab on April 15, 2014. For all slides and video from the Digital News Revenue Summit, as well as the full program, please visit the #newsrev landing page. — J.B.

By Jake Batsell

Reprogramming your thermostat every time the seasons change can be a maddening exercise. But that humdrum annoyance created a market opportunity for Nest Labs, whose $249 self-programming thermostat allows users to more easily manage their personal comfort.

What can the news business learn from the Nest thermostat? It solves a problem, and people are willing to pay for it. News sites should similarly aim to fill a need for — and, better yet, delight — their audiences, argues Michael Maness, the Knight Foundation’s vice president of journalism and media innovation.

Nest was one of the examples Maness cited during his provocative keynote talk, “Does Anyone Need It?” (slides/video), at the Digital News Revenue Summit earlier this month at the University of Texas at Austin. The one-day summit, part of my activities as a Knight-funded Texas Tribune fellow, brought together more than 90 participants from 27 countries on the day before the always-stellar International Symposium on Online Journalism.

The goal of the revenue summit — which I organized with my fellow Tribune fellow (and newly promoted publisher) Tim Griggs — was to discuss, debate and brainstorm ways to fund digital news. Tim set the ground rules in his opening remarks: We would not be discussing well-worn journalism conference topics, like The New York Times’ Snow Fall or Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring. The #newsrev summit had a singular focus: how to pay for journalism in an era when news consumers have infinite choices.

Subsidizing news through corporate sponsorships

An increasingly popular way to subsidize journalism is by courting corporate sponsors looking to reach an influential audience. As Nieman Lab has noted, the nonprofit Texas Tribune is a national leader in this area — last year, the Tribune generated more than $2 million through corporate underwriting and sponsored events. At the summit, I moderated a panel that took a deeper look at the evolution of the Tribune’s business model (slides/video), with practical tips from the Tribune managers who specialize in revenue streams including sponsorships, events, philanthropic donations, membership and crowdfunding.

Since its launch in 2009, the Tribune has significantly diversified its sources of revenue, becoming less dependent on donations from foundations and individuals while generating more cash from sponsors, members and supplementary streams including syndication and a Kickstarter campaign.

Given the growing scrutiny surrounding the role of corporations, foundations and wealthy individuals in funding nonprofit news, I was a bit surprised that the panel drew only one question regarding the ethics of sponsorships. Tom Laskawy, executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, said that for his national, subject-specific news organization, “corporate sponsorships have appeared to be a deeply problematic thing to move into.” He asked Tribune panelists how they address the potential church/state conflict between sponsors’ business interests and the site’s editorial independence.

April Hinkle, the Tribune’s chief revenue officer and former publisher of Texas Monthly magazine, replied that the church/state divide has been a constant presence throughout her career. “There has always been that line, and no matter what, we will not cross it,” Hinkle said, adding that sponsors do not control the content of Tribune events or news coverage. (The Tribune recently expanded its disclosures of donors and corporate sponsors.)

The changing revenue mix

Advertising still dominates the overall U.S. media landscape, accounting for 69 percent of an estimated $65 billion in total news revenue, according to the Pew Research Center’s Jesse Holcomb, whose summit presentation (slides/video) was packed with nuggets from Pew’s State of the News Media 2014 report. But as Holcomb explained, audience revenue and non-traditional sources represent a growing share of the news revenue pie.

Nonprofit news outlets, a “growing but fragile” part of the U.S. media ecosystem, are clamoring for more time and resources to devote to business development, Holcomb said. Meanwhile, for-profit digital news startups attracted an eye-popping $300 million last year in venture capital, although their long-term sustainability — and venture capital’s staying power as a revenue stream for news — is far from proven.

Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan, fellows at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, outlined early findings from their year-long Single-Subject News Project (slides/video). Most of the nearly 20 niche news sites participating in the Tow fellows’ study are seeking to establish diverse revenue streams, Setrakian and Nolan said. But the revenue combinations differ wildly as each site concocts its own individual mix of subscriptions, foundation funding, “freemium” paywalls, events, merchandising and the like.

Philanthropy: Still a “bridge to the future”

After spending all day exploring ways that both nonprofit and for-profit news outlets can generate more of their own revenue, the summit’s final panel (video) focused on the continued importance of philanthropic backing for important, public-interest news projects that are unlikely to be supported by sponsorships or subscriptions.

Seen Hau Tham, senior executive producer for KiniTV, an online television venture in Malaysia, said her for-profit social enterprise relies on philanthropic grants to “give us the opportunity to experiment into something that is risky, that we don’t know for sure that it could make money, but it’s very essential.” For example, she said, grants are enabling KiniTV to distribute online television reports to reach rural Malaysians who don’t read the newspaper.

Indeed, for all the day’s emphasis on self-generated income, panelists concurred that philanthropic donations remain critical to the survival of public-interest journalism.

“The fact is, there’s not a business model — definitely for nonprofits — without donations,” said Brant Houston, board chair of the Investigative News Network and Knight chair of investigative journalism at the University of Illinois. “Philanthropy is our bridge to the future right now. So please don’t pull the bridge up yet.”

The most fascinating part of the day may have been the late-afternoon working groups, when international attendees raised issues that even news nerds like me had never envisioned. If your news site is published in different languages, should you charge differently for content in each language? How do you respond when a militant group offers to “sponsor” your news organization?

So, what’s next? My final fellowship report, to be released later this year, will distill best practices in the business of digital news that I’ve encountered at the Tribune and its peers across the country. In the meantime, all slides and video from the Digital News Revenue Summit can be accessed via the #newsrev landing page on my fellowship blog, NewsBiz.

Jake Batsell, an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University, is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a Texas Tribune Fellow in Austin.

[UPDATE, 4/9/14: All slide decks, videos and working group documents are now available on the permanent #newsrev landing page.]

Welcome to Solving the Revenue Riddle: A Summit on Sustaining Digital News! Whether you are joining us in person or virtually via livestream and/or Twitter, we are grateful for your interest.

Registration is full for the summit, which is by invitation only. It will be held at the University of Texas at Austin’s Belo Center for New Media (Briefing Room, 5.208), 300 W. Dean Keeton St.

Live video begins at 8:30 a.m. CDT on Thursday via the #newsrev event pages on both The Texas Tribune and Livestream. We will break for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and return for our afternoon program at 1 p.m. The livestream ends at 3 p.m. as the conference breaks into individual groups.

Please see below for the full program and follow the hashtag #newsrev on Twitter.


8AM-8:30 AM Coffee/Tea/Light Breakfast

8:30AM-8:45 AM Welcome
Tim Griggs, Publisher and Chief Operating Officer, Texas Tribune

8:45 AM-9:30 AM Keynote: Does Anyone Need It?
Michael Maness, Vice President for Journalism & Media Innovation, Knight Foundation

9:30 AM-11 AM Panel: Evolving Revenue Strategies at The Texas Tribune
April Hinkle, Chief Revenue Officer
Maggie Gilburg, Director of Development
Agnes Varnum, Director of Events
Rodney Gibbs, Chief Innovation Officer
Natalie Choate, Assistant Director of Development

— Moderated by Jake Batsell, Texas Tribune Fellow —

11 AM-11:30 AM Briefing: The Shift From Advertising to Reader Revenue — A Deeper Look at the State of the News Media 2014 Report
Jesse Holcomb, Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project

11:45 AM-12:45 PM Lunch
1 PM-1:30 PM Briefing: The Startup Newsroom: Lessons From the Single-Subject News Project
Kristin Nolan and Lara Setrakian, Tow Fellows, Columbia University

1:30 PM-1:45 PM Briefing: Early Observations on the First Round of INNovation Fund Applications
Kevin Davis, CEO, Investigative News Network

1:45 PM-2:45 PM Panel: Philanthropy’s Ongoing Role in Supporting Public-Interest Journalism
Marie Gilot, Media Innovation Associate, Knight Foundation
Fatemah Farag, Founder and Director, Welad Elbalad Media Services LTD, Egypt
Brant Houston, Board Chair, Investigative News Network; Knight Chair, U. of Illinois
Seen Hau Tham, Senior Executive Producer, KiniTV, Malaysia
Herb Watkins, Board Chair, Austin Monitor / Capital of Texas Media Foundation

— Moderated by Kevin Davis, CEO, INN —

2:45 PM-3 PM Break

3 PM-4 PM Working Groups: Brainstorming Best Practices
Corporate sponsorships & advertising
End-user revenue (memberships, subscriptions, etc)
Supplementary streams (crowdfunding, syndication, training, services, etc)

4 PM-5 PM Reports From Breakout Groups; Concluding Thoughts

5:30 PM-7:30 PM PBS MediaShift/Texas Tribune Mixer at ISOJ
Hole in the Wall, 2538 Guadalupe St.

One day before the 15th annual International Symposium on Online Journalism, the Knight-funded Texas Tribune Fellows will host a Digital News Revenue Summit in partnership with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. [UPDATE: This is an invite-only event and we are over capacity. However, livestreaming will begin at 8:30 a.m. CDT on Thursday.]

The summit, held on Thursday, April 3, 2014, at the University of Texas at Austin, will bring together journalists and researchers from around the world. The summit’s morning keynote — “Does Anyone Need It?” — will be delivered by Michael Maness, Vice President for Journalism and Media Innovation at the Knight Foundation. Maness will discuss the value of embracing and owning customer need as an integral part of a news organization’s core mission, not just a “necessary evil” to pay the bills.

The summit will bring together a diverse mix of confirmed participants from news startups (both nonprofit and for-profit), think-tanks and universities. It will include panel discussions about revenue-generating strategies, as well as briefings from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Columbia University’s Single-Subject News Project and the Investigative News Network.

The summit’s Twitter hashtag is #newsrev and most of the event will be livestreamed. Check back here for further details as the date approaches, or visit

Editor’s note: Earlier this year on NewsBiz, I wrote a blog post describing a four-phase audience research initiative led by my fellow Texas Tribune fellow, Tim Griggs, who has since been promoted to publisher and chief operating officer. The post caught the attention of Anika Anand, director of engagement for Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news outlet covering educational change in New York, Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee. In this post, originally published on her personal blog, Anand discusses her efforts to better understand Chalkbeat’s audience. — J.B.

By Anika Anand

Why study your audience? Simply put, without audiences there would be no media. In other words, a news outlet can’t exist without an audience.

A few weeks ago, I read a blog post written by Texas Tribune fellows Jake Batsell and Tim Griggs about how they’re studying the Tribune’s audience. In my job description (which is constantly evolving), audience research is one of the main bullet points. But how exactly do you go about doing it? I thought Griggs described it well in the blog post:

“The four phases are: 1) Market sizing, to help the Tribune understand its total potential audience; 2) Qualitative research (focus groups) that help shed light on what attributes make moderate-to-heavy users different from non-users, 3) Quantitative research (surveys) that will help paint specific audience profiles of users and prospects, and 4) Creating a user insight panel to call upon for informal feedback and beta testing.”

I like it when people break down a process into steps that seem fairly manageable, so I wanted to learn more. Batsell and Griggs were gracious enough to immediately respond to my e-mail and set up a time to talk about their process. By the end of the conversation, I realized that I (and other news orgs) could learn a lot from their work, which is very smart and thorough. But Chalkbeat doesn’t have the time, money or capacity to do the kind of in-depth audience research the Tribune did (yet!) So I gleaned the most important points we talked about and came up with a simplified, quicker “start-up” version of audience research for Chalkbeat. I narrowed it down to three main steps. (I told you I really like steps).

First, how do you define your audience? At Chalkbeat, this is how we break down our audience groups:

  • Education participants: These include students and parents/guardians.
  • Education professionals: People who work in schools. These include teachers, principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches and paraprofessionals.
  • Influencers/policymakers: People who influence or try to influence what happens in and to schools. These include lawmakers, policymakers, school board members, school system administrators, advocacy and nonprofit organizations.
  • General public: These are people who aren’t specifically focused on education but care about participating in local government and want to stay informed.
  • Now that we have an understanding of who we want to reach, step two is finding out the “addressable market.” Or in other words, what is our total number of potential readers? If I was going about this the way Batsell and Griggs are, I’d find out how many members the NYC teachers union has and I’d get an exact count of how many employees work at the city and state’s education departments. I hope to be able to do that down the road, but for now, I gotta ballpark the numbers.

    Very rough estimate of addressable market

    *The total estimated reader base doesn’t include policymakers, influencers or voters. Students are used as a proxy for parents.

    Now, ideally, we’d know exactly which group every single one of our readers falls into when he or she visits our site so that we know if we aren’t reaching enough parents or if most of our readers are only education professionals. But we don’t currently have a registration system for our readers to sign into and identify which group they fall into. So for now, we’re using our average number of unique visitors per month to understand how much of our total addressable market we’re reaching. This simple exercise (despite how rough my estimates are and how imperfect Google Analytics is) demonstrates that we’ve barely tapped our potential to reach our addressable market.

    The last step is by far the most actionable, which I like, because sometimes doing too much of this theoretical study feels unproductive. We’ve defined our audience, figured out roughly how many of them we’re reaching and now, obviously, need to figure out how to reach more of them.

    So I created a spreadsheet that details all the ways we can “distribute” and every single possible place we can distribute to. I created one of these for each of our bureau locations as well as nationwide (here’s a larger view).

    Distribution list template

    Everyone defines distribution differently, so I decided to specifically define what I think distribution could mean for us now: linking to our stories in a post, linking to our stories in a news roundup/newsletter, using social media to promote our posts, republishing our content and interviewing our reporters.

    I also didn’t want to limit our distribution to just media outlets, because it’s not the only place people get their information. If a teachers union links to our stories in an email newsletter, it’s just as valuable as that same story being republished in a popular city newspaper. It’s all about going to where readers are– not assuming that they will come to you.

    One last, important note: Audience research shouldn’t be done on a one-time basis. It should be an ongoing process to assess changes in who our audience is, their interests and how they’re getting their information. And as our audience changes, our content and engagement efforts should change too.

    By Jake Batsell

    In journalism education circles, few people have spent more energy trying to bridge the academic and professional worlds than Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation.

    Newton’s recent digital book, Searchlights and Sunglasses: Field Notes From the Digital Age of Journalism, offers a “learning layer” of more than 1,000 lessons, resources and links for journalism educators in search of up-to-date class material. The book, which is free, sparked the creation of the PBS MediaShift microsite EducationShift: Moving Journalism Education Forward.

    I have a keen interest in tracking best practices not only in the business of digital news, but in the teaching of the business of digital news (I co-teach a Media Entrepreneurship course at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and was a member of the inaugural class of Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute fellows). So this week, when I visited the Knight Foundation’s headquarters in Miami, I asked Newton for some of his thoughts about how journalism schools should approach teaching entrepreneurial skills. Here are some highlights from our Q&A:

    You have strongly advocated the teaching hospital model of journalism education. But how does the teaching hospital approach match up with the growing emphasis at many j-schools on entrepreneurship and equipping students with the skills they need to create their own jobs?

    Newton: People are not really familiar with what teaching hospitals do. I gave a speech in Amsterdam that explains this. The actual teaching hospital, it’s got an emergency room … clinics where people are cured … and laboratories where research is done.

    The clinic side and the research side work together. They are inventing the new thing, but also doing the regular thing at the same time.

    This zero-sum idea that [journalism schools] have got to be practical clinics or future and high-technology labs, one or the other, doesn’t help solve the problem, because the solution is both.

    Given those dual missions, to what degree do you think journalism schools should be teaching students to set out on their own and launch their own news ventures and everything that entails, versus joining an existing news organization?

    Newton: The main question is, what does every student need to know? And [then] what should students be able to learn if they want to?

    Not every student wants to start his own or her own job or company. Not every student wants to work for a traditional news organization.

    Students need to know enough in the core curriculum so they can make an informed decision about what they want to do.

    [In] an ideal curriculum, the students would know both how to transform an existing news organization and how to create new products.

    But it’s hard to know whether schools of all sizes would be able to pull that off.

    [Still] when you strip away the question of the kind of company and the size of company [and look at] the underlying skill set, it’s possible that the fundamental skill set is not really significantly different.

    You should know something about media economics, whether or not you’re going to do your own company …

    You should know something about business, about numeracy, about technology no matter which way you go.

    Not everyone is going to want to run their own company … they should be able to if they want to. They shouldn’t go into a university that says it has a top journalism program and not come out the other end capable of doing a startup.

    In music programs, for example, you can go through the performance track, you can go through the teaching track, there are different kinds of specialties you can develop, but there’s an underlying musical knowledge that everyone has.

    So the big arguments now are, what needs to be in the core – what does every student need to know – versus what you can make available as an option.

    A certain amount of coding ability and numeracy is mandatory regardless of whether a student goes to work at a traditional company. A certain amount of, you might call it computational journalism — the ability to interrogate databases and interview algorithms — [is] a modern reporting technique that needs to be learned, somewhat beyond computer-assisted reporting.

    Some young people have grown up with HTML and Javascript and just know how to do that … Others haven’t exercised their math muscles in that way and would need more prerequisites to be able to do it. …

    The issue is developing a 21st-century core that has all of the key skill sets someone’s going to need, whether they stay in media, or simply use the communication skills in the rest of society; whether they go to create their own companies, [or] if they choose to be a scholar and stay and study media.

    It’s one thing to rip up the silos and to say, well, we’re not going to have a print track or a broadcast track – everyone’s going to learn digital things. Well, what digital things? What are the things you really need to know to do all we’re talking about? What is the true fundamental skill set … that allows [journalists] to bring to news and information the kind of added value that makes people want and need it more?

    Your recent book Searchlights and Sunglasses sparked a conversation that led to the creation of EducationShift. How can #edshift support the goal of better equipping young journalists with entrepreneurial skills?

    Newton: The power of new forms of media [is] increasing, and the speed with which the new developments are coming [is] increasing. So the old mechanisms for filtering best practices aren’t functioning as well.

    There might be, for example, 200 new valuable digital tools for journalists. Where’s the Consumer Reports website for these tools that explains them all, that catalogs them, that rates them, that says, ‘Our panel of journalists tried this one or that one’?

    The idea of #edshift is that it’s simply a place where people can share new things that they’re doing. Many educators already share things on the ONA Educators Facebook page. Others share things at conferences like South by Southwest or Journalism Interactive. Others share things on the Social Journalism Facebook page. Others share things through blogs.

    The idea here was to try to make things more convenient for journalism educators by having a place that deliberately reached out to those other places to see what the best of what they were talking about was, and trying to bring it to a location so you wouldn’t have to look to eight or 10 or 15 or 20 different places to see pieces of the conversation.

    If educators embrace it, it’ll evolve and improve. And if they don’t think that’s the best way to do it, then [we’ll] try something else.

    This Q&A was conducted, edited and condensed by Jake Batsell (@jbatsell), an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University, who is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a Texas Tribune Fellow based in Austin.

    blog comments powered by Disqus