December 27, 2017; MediaShift
Nonprofit journalism continues to make inroads in the US news business, and not only in the usual places like New York and Washington. MediaShift, which covers the intersection of mass media and technology, cites several examples of radical change in the journalism business model that have emerged in recent years.
New York-based ProPublica, one of the country’s most high-profile nonprofit newsrooms, opened a regional bureau in Chicago with a team of 12 reporters, editors and technologists. In Vermont, the nonprofit VTDigger has become the country’s largest investigative reporting nonprofit focused on local or state news.
MediaShift’s reporter also covers inewsource in San Diego, projected to hit a record $1.1 million in revenue this fiscal year. inewsource’s small reporting team focuses on four local issues: education, health, the environment, and local government. It partners with local PBS, NPR, and CBS affiliates to reach over a million people a week through web, radio, and TV.
Examples of inewsource’s reporting include a series on transparency in how the city of San Diego discloses the business interests behind city purchases and contracts, an analysis on diabetes-related amputations in San Diego County and California, an investigation into a local nonprofit Christian college that found financial improprieties, as well as articles that uncovered problems at a local school district serving low-income communities and faulty test score data posted by the California Department of Education.
Its partnerships investigated how one local refugee resettlement agency violated housing practices, took “the first-ever mile-by-mile look at the US/Mexico border wall, as well as its effect on migration patterns and border patrol staffing levels over time,” highlighted how San Diego schools are dealing with educating refugees, and analyzed how race plays into community college completion rates.
“In looking ahead to 2018, local investigative reporting nonprofits are likely to have an even more important role in the media landscape, through more partnerships, increasing readership and an ever-more urgent need for trustworthy journalism. We will continue to produce stories that have immediate impact. As a nonprofit investigative newsroom, we can only do this work with the support and generosity of people who care about credible, fact-driven journalism,” says the author, a reporter at inewsource.
This new, more broadly owned media form has been supported by the creation of philanthropy-backed field infrastructure. For example, the Knight Foundation has provided a number of supports; it produces regular reports on business model development and has helped to seed the eight-year-old Institute for Nonprofit News (INN). In turn, INN, in concert with the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and others, has gone on to found News Match, which matches donations by individuals to nonprofit newsrooms they select by region or topic.
It will be interesting to see if this new addition to the field works. In the end, however, the road for local investigative news organizations hasn’t been easy; even for a success story like VTDigger, whose budget remains around $1.5 million, growth has been fueled largely by human capital. VTDigger expects to reach $2 million sometime in the next four years.—Larry Kaplan