Have a grant proposal? Show us a plan for sustainability as well as need
Successful projects must have community support; new Pew report on journalist sentiment
We hope you’re enjoying the News @ Knight newsletter. I’ve served as the voice of this note since launch, but I want to give Knight’s Journalism program staff the chance to talk about what they’re seeing and challenges they’re facing. We’ve already heard from Journalism Director Karen Rundlet and Director of Tech Innovation Marc Lavallee. This week I’m excited to hand the mic to Duc Luu, Director of Sustainability Initiatives/Journalism. – Jim Brady
As someone with sustainability in his job title, I doubt it’s a surprise to anyone that I believe the sustainability of a program is even more important than the need for it.
Since I started at Knight in January, I’ve received requests to support newsrooms that want to reach essential audiences such as indigenous tribes, the disabled, Black and Hispanic communities, rural towns with no sources of news, and formerly incarcerated individuals. As a former Knight grantee, I had always assumed Knight had an unlimited war chest it could deploy to save journalism in any community it wanted. Now, as a steward of a finite pool of capital, I realize how important it is to be strategic about what we support.
When many grantees seek support from Knight, their pitch inevitably starts with their community or audience's need. This is understandable. But, from the perspective of a funder with a national scope, this approach creates two problems for Knight. First, we will never be able to properly assess a community’s true needs. An organization based in a community will always know more about that community’s needs than Knight ever will, and the best data and anecdotes will never be as powerful as the lived experiences of a potential grantee. Second, even if we could determine the need in a given community or audience was urgent and necessary, we still inevitably have to weigh that need against the many other urgent and necessary needs in local journalism right now.
This is why a smart sustainability plan is so crucial: It allows a proposal to separate itself from the others. The best proposals I’ve encountered from potential grantees are those that convince me of the need in their community, but then present a realistic plan for meeting that need by leveraging the financial resources of that community and its allies. Ultimately, sustainability means that the people you are serving truly want what you are providing and are willing to show their support with precious financial resources.
This money can come not only from members or subscribers or advertisers, but also from your local community foundation, major donors, local business sponsors or, in some cases, national funders. Funding plans that show a deep reservoir of community support and engagement are exciting to us, because they're the likeliest to last and make the desired impact. And because Knight tends not to be a continuing funder, the financial success of a grantee means we can take the money once dedicated to them and fund a new, exciting venture with a similarly strong sustainability model.
Knight's funding, network and expertise may well be able to jump-start a new market, unlock capital that would have otherwise have laid dormant or help grantees acquire leadership and talent – but none of that matters if a grantee’s community cannot ensure the long-term success of the venture. If you are seeking Knight funding, and would like to connect, I would love to hear ideas that put sustainability at the forefront and leverage your knowledge of your community.
Other News around the horn…
🤔Journalists are satisfied with work, not the industry. A recent survey from Pew Research, supported by Knight, of nearly 12,000 working journalists found that they are really passionate about their work – but have very negative views of the industry. Despite their challenges, 77 percent of journalists would still pursue a career in journalism if they could do it all over again. But 72 percent used a negative word to describe the news industry, with words such as “struggling” and “chaos” dominating. They were also concerned about the rise of misinformation and restrictions on press freedom. On the plus side, 41 percent said they received a salary increase, 50 percent had salaries that stayed the same with just 7 percent experiencing a pay cut.
🔥Charm City on fire with news startups. It wasn’t long ago that Baltimore was a city with a local news problem. The flagship Baltimore Sun was being sold to a hedge fund and city philanthropists failed to save it. Now there are two noteworthy local news launches. The nonprofit meganova Baltimore Banner came alive recently thanks to $50 million in philanthropic funding led by Stewart Bainum Jr. Also, the Baltimore Beat alt-weekly has risen from the ashes of the old City Paper thanks to funding from the Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation, a Jewish funder specifically helping a Black-run news outlet. “It was also important to us that as a white, Jewish family, that we participate in the divestiture of the power that comes with this kind of money,” Adam Holofcener, a local nonprofit lawyer, artist and composer who helps run the Foundation, told Baltimore magazine.
📈Nonprofit news on the rise. Last week was the annual INN Days conference from the Institute for Nonprofit News, which took place online and in our hearts, with nearly 600 attendees. This one was really a celebration of just how far nonprofit news has come in the past few years. INN helpfully provided some takeaways from the conference for those who couldn’t attend: Nonprofit newsrooms are finding strength and value in collaboration; the field is getting stronger financially; and INN rebranded its membership as the “INN Network.” Just how strong is the field? A sneak peek at the INN Index showed that two-thirds of news outlets increased annual revenues from 2018 to 2021, with the typical outlet growing revenues by 25 percent in this timeframe. As Waco Foundation’s director of communications and donor services Natalie Kelinske put it: “It’s about building the case for improving quality of life, and alternatively, what does quality of life look like if local journalism is nonexistent?
💸Table Stakes sprints for dollars. The Table Stakes program, led by the American Press Institute (API), has had amazing success bringing innovations to newsrooms through change-management training. Now they’re building on that success with the very first alumni sprint program that will support five newsrooms in digital subscription growth and retention. Expert coaches will help guide the publishers as they test out new concepts and workflows, while the Maynard Institute will help emphasize diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging into the curriculum. “This sprint cohort will provide that structure they crave, while also helping them solve their most pressing challenges,” said Emily Ristow, API’s director of local news transformation.
✨How a new CMS delivered for Black-owned news outlets. Can a new content management system really make a difference for a small news publisher? That was the question that the Local Media Association wanted to answer when Knight invested in Newspack CMSes for four publishers of color. The big takeaway: While a new CMS might not solve all problems, it can improve a news organization’s business and workflow over time. LMA found that page load times improved from 82 percent up to 3,000 percent; staff found that adding new features was much easier; and business decision-making around what opportunities to pursue was simpler. Check out the whole report.
🧛From a blood bank to news loyalty. You probably know all about the News Revenue Hub and how CEO Mary Walter-Brown has turned it into a membership-and-donation powerhouse for 70 news publisher members who’ve combined to raise more than $61 million. What you might not know is that Walter-Brown’s expertise in extracting monthly donations started at the San Diego Blood Bank, where she worked in the early 2000s. “So I really took the framework and the loyalty program that I built at the blood bank to Voice of San Diego, and recreated both the technology infrastructure needed to do targeted, automated conversations with their subscribers, along with a donation platform that made it really easy and frictionless to donate,” she told the PressGazette. (Insert vampire joke here.)
🧗How a newspaper built trust by having fun. The Des Moines Register had a problem with trust, so it decided to humanize its staff with a new email newsletter dedicated to entertainment and lifestyle. “Off Hours” includes reviews of new restaurants, workout activities such as bouldering, and even how to pull off a quick wedding. The Register gauged success by how many people emailed them to ask questions, and it even allowed community members to contribute content. Most exciting of all, journalists throughout the newsroom actually had fun contributing. “We thought our project was great but we were not expecting how much passion others would bring to it,” the Register’s editors told BetterNews.
Tweet of the Week
NPR @NPRInternet Explorer is dead at 26. https://t.co/wGBAS3ohhm
News @ Knight Credits
Written by Duc Luu, with Mark Glaser
Edited by Jessica Clark & Kenny Ma
Produced by Kenny Ma
Executive Produced by Heidi Barker & Jim Brady
Godfathered by Alberto Ibargüen
A Knight + Dot Connector Joint