Nonprofits team up for impact

“But that only gets you so far if all those publications have a largely overlapping audience nested securely within the progressive bubble.”

There’s no question that nonprofit news outlets are producing some of our most important journalism right now. The big question is: Who’s reading it?

scott-doddWith a few exceptions (John Oliver’s ProPublica shoutout notwithstanding), nonprofit journalism struggles to reach large audiences, build subscribers, and secure longterm funding support. Those Facebook ad buys are pricey, after all.

The result: We’ve got more and more great journalism being produced — on topics of vital national importance like health care, criminal justice, and climate change — by outlets that can’t match the reach of the for-profit media, and that face significant resource concerns and possible contraction in the future. Not a good look for democracy.

The solution: Team up!

At my publication, we call this effort to build partnerships and expand audience Project Sprout (because we like to give fun names to everything). We’re a member of story-sharing consortiums with fellow forward-thinking outlets, and we’re in constant search of new distribution methods. These efforts can expand the visibility of one of our stories tenfold, sometimes a hundredfold.

But that only gets you so far if all those publications have a largely overlapping audience nested securely within the progressive bubble. Many nonprofit editors have the same concerns — I know, because we talk about it with each other constantly.

In the coming year, those nonprofit editors will seek out new partnerships and arrangements, with radio networks, newspaper chains, community outlets, social media networks, and one another. And their work will be in demand, because there’s a growing realization that the journalism they produce is vitally important and needs a larger audience.

Pooling resources and knowledge — something I’ve been doing with an informal group of nonprofit enviro editors who think collaboration beats competition — can also help push beyond the financial and resource constraints that small, scrappy outlets face.

In the environmental field, these partnerships and coalitions will include a focus on new ways of reaching readers who care about clean water, safe communities, and conservation, but who probably aren’t burning up to read the latest climate news. We’ll see an increased focus on local and state stories and community-based reporting, with a determination to get those stories in front of local audiences.

Teamwork…well, it works. Now we’ll need a fun name for that, too.

Scott Dodd is executive editor of Grist.

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