The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

“As anyone who has attempted to be a changemaker in a storied workplace knows, it’s easier to build what you want from the ground up than attempt to change the processes, priorities, and personnel in an existing structure.”

Newsrooms aren’t changing fast enough. We’re still too white. We’re still too male. We’re still too deeply tied to legacy products — whether they be print newspapers, TV broadcasts, or magazines — even though we claim to put digital first. Solutions for key issues that were “just around the corner” when I was starting my career are still massive pain points.

It is unsurprising that we’re seeing nonprofit newsrooms spring up on a regular basis. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune have been excellent models for years, and this year we’ve seen the arrival of new players such as The Beacon in Kansas City, The 19th*, and The Markup.

It’s not an entirely new trend. The 2020 INN Index reports that nonprofit newsrooms “have launched at a pace of a dozen or more a year since 2008.” Local and explanatory reporting are two major focus areas for nonprofit news organizations.

Many are responding to holes in coverage. The New York Times reports a PEN America study: “Since 2004, more than 1,800 local print outlets have shuttered in the United States, and at least 200 counties have no newspaper at all.” Other organizations are taking on specific areas of focus that haven’t received enough attention or that have been cut in legacy newsrooms: criminal justice, investigative projects, education reporting, the hunger crisis.

But I believe the rise of new nonprofit organizations will continue for another reason. As anyone who has attempted to be a changemaker in a storied workplace knows, it’s easier to build what you want from the ground up than attempt to change the processes, priorities, and personnel in an existing structure. This can be true for launching new teams or projects or founding an entire company. In listening to several nonprofit news founders this year, it’s clear they are being incredibly intentional about targeting the industry’s major issues: staff diversity, pay inequity, audience community building.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. These are huge undertakings, and many are putting themselves on the line to create something from scratch. It also doesn’t fully answer the question of why so many have chosen this route over a for-profit model, which some have criticized. But it’s keeping valuable journalists in the industry. I’ve seen so many smart and passionate people — many of whom are women and people of color — leave journalism over the last decade, frustrated by workplaces stuck in the ways things have always been done. I’m cheering for these newsrooms’ success not only because they play a crucial role for their readers and communities, but also because, from what I can tell so far, they are offering journalists a better place to work. And after a year that can only be conservatively described as rough, that’s exactly what we need.

Rachel Schallom is the deputy editor for digital at Fortune.

Newsrooms aren’t changing fast enough. We’re still too white. We’re still too male. We’re still too deeply tied to legacy products — whether they be print newspapers, TV broadcasts, or magazines — even though we claim to put digital first. Solutions for key issues that were “just around the corner” when I was starting my career are still massive pain points.

It is unsurprising that we’re seeing nonprofit newsrooms spring up on a regular basis. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune have been excellent models for years, and this year we’ve seen the arrival of new players such as The Beacon in Kansas City, The 19th*, and The Markup.

It’s not an entirely new trend. The 2020 INN Index reports that nonprofit newsrooms “have launched at a pace of a dozen or more a year since 2008.” Local and explanatory reporting are two major focus areas for nonprofit news organizations.

Many are responding to holes in coverage. The New York Times reports a PEN America study: “Since 2004, more than 1,800 local print outlets have shuttered in the United States, and at least 200 counties have no newspaper at all.” Other organizations are taking on specific areas of focus that haven’t received enough attention or that have been cut in legacy newsrooms: criminal justice, investigative projects, education reporting, the hunger crisis.

But I believe the rise of new nonprofit organizations will continue for another reason. As anyone who has attempted to be a changemaker in a storied workplace knows, it’s easier to build what you want from the ground up than attempt to change the processes, priorities, and personnel in an existing structure. This can be true for launching new teams or projects or founding an entire company. In listening to several nonprofit news founders this year, it’s clear they are being incredibly intentional about targeting the industry’s major issues: staff diversity, pay inequity, audience community building.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. These are huge undertakings, and many are putting themselves on the line to create something from scratch. It also doesn’t fully answer the question of why so many have chosen this route over a for-profit model, which some have criticized. But it’s keeping valuable journalists in the industry. I’ve seen so many smart and passionate people — many of whom are women and people of color — leave journalism over the last decade, frustrated by workplaces stuck in the ways things have always been done. I’m cheering for these newsrooms’ success not only because they play a crucial role for their readers and communities, but also because, from what I can tell so far, they are offering journalists a better place to work. And after a year that can only be conservatively described as rough, that’s exactly what we need.

Rachel Schallom is the deputy editor for digital at Fortune.

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