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Oct. 4, 2017, 11:08 a.m.
Business Models

Single-subject news sites are (obviously!) focused on single subjects, from education (Chalkbeat) to criminal justice (The Marshall Project) to gun violence (The Trace), but what do they have in common, what can they learn from each other, and what can other single-subject news sites learn from them?

Those are questions that the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy hopes to explore with a $683,000 grant from Knight, announced Wednesday. (Knight is also a funder of Nieman Lab.) The participating news outlets are Chalkbeat, The Hechinger Report, The Marshall Project, ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, The Trace, and The War Horse.

“Twenty years ago, if I had talked about these kinds of deep verticals — a news organization completely focused on criminal justice — you might have thought I was nuts,” said Nicco Mele, Shorenstein Center’s director. “This new model for journalism has emerged, and we want to try to better understand its potential appeal to digital audiences, what the dynamics of the model are, and how it might be repeated in other areas.”

The two-year project will include two phases. First comes a research phase to understand what the sites’ priorities are, how they are getting funding, how they’re acquiring and engaging audiences, and how they can grow. In the second phase, Shorenstein will develop a report on best practices, to be released by summer 2019.

The project will also give the participating news organizations some space to talk to and learn from each other, though they already do so on an informal basis, Mele said. “Part of what we’re doing is helping to strengthen that network.”

In other Shorenstein Center news: First Draft, an initiative that works to fight misinformation and disinformation, is now officially housed at Shorenstein. First Draft — now up to four full-time employees and led by Claire Wardle, who’s moved to Cambridge — laid out its plans for coming months:

— Launching our verification training for journalists, a five-unit online course.

— Publishing a comprehensive report examining the phenomenon, theory and practice of information disorder for the Council of Europe.

— Reporting our findings from research examining the impact of the CrossCheck French election project.

— Instituting a ‘Train the Trainer’ program.

— Establishing a collaborative journalism project around the US-midterm election.

— Holding a Disinformation workshop in partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

— Working with partners in different countries who want to establish election-monitoring projects.

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