Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Higher ed and public radio are enmeshed. So what happens when the culture wars come?
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Sept. 30, 2021, 11:50 a.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   September 30, 2021

The number of single-topic nonprofit news organizations has quadrupled since 2008, according to a series of new reports from The Institute for Nonprofit News released this week. INN counted 51 outlets that focus on a single topic, including The Water Desk (water issues in the Western U.S.) or The War Horse (“the human impact of military service”) or EdSource (education in California).

Single-topic newsrooms are just one focus in new supplemental material for the annual INN Index. This year, INN broke nonprofit newsrooms into five smaller categories: nonprofit newsrooms focused on national and global news (which continue to attract most of the foundation and major donor revenue); state and regional news; local news; communities of color; and single-subject journalism. Since each type of newsroom has “distinct revenue, product, and audience models,” each got its own fact sheet and revenue breakdown.

“What DNA does investigative powerhouse ProPublica in New York share with the Patagonia Regional Times community newspaper in rural Arizona?” asked INN’s CEO and executive director Sue Cross in an introductory note. After all, she writes:

What we’ve learned as the nonprofit journalism field grows is that nonprofit news is not a business model; it draws on many business models. The umbrella term “nonprofit news” covers several types of news media models aligned by their public service mission that shapes their journalism and their commitments to the communities they serve.

Single-topic newsrooms, for example, tend to rely on foundations at a much higher share than other nonprofit newsroom. (“Grant support has been a bright spot for single-topic news organizations, which can tap foundations that are highly engaged in specific issues,” the report notes.)

Fact-sheet readers can see that earned revenue like sponsorships or advertising is “underdeveloped” across the entire nonprofit news industry but especially among single-topic sites.

These single-topic sites tend to be small — the median staff size is five — and also stand out as reaching more of their audience through their own platforms. The publications told INN that they reach 82% of their audience directly, rather than via publication partnerships.

Local news organizations, once relatively rare in nonprofit news, are a fast-growing sector, too. Before 2008, just one in six outlets focused on local news. Between 2018 and 2020, though, a total of 33 local outlets launched — including 11 during the Covid-19 crisis alone.

You can read through all of the fact sheets here.

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