Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Knight on Nonprofit News- Stumbling to viability

The Knight Foundation has just released a study of 18 nonprofit news organizations, looking at what progress has been made in terms of creating a viable economic model.  They looked at the news outlets' ability ability to serve their audience by creating unique and relevant content that held value for both readers and communities (social value creation); their ability to convert social value to economic value by growing multiple revenue streams; and whether they were developing a organizational capacity that would allow the continued adaptation and innovation required in an ever-evolving news marketplace.

While perhaps (and understandably) overly optimistic, the report suggests that the most successful nonprofit news organizations share certain traits:
  • Keep questioning assumptions - don't assume you know what your audience wants and needs. Keep track of who your audience is, and what they care about - they're changing, and your organization needs to follow.
  • Pursue both niche and need - successful organizations identify underserved niches in their market and target them; while balancing those with more general news and informational needs.  "(The) answer to 'who is your audience?' is never 'everyone.'"
  • Serve, don't just publish - they realize that their business isn't publishing news and advertising, but developing relationships with their audience that are rich in information and connections.
  • Invest beyond content - follows the previous point - to be successful they need to be more than just a source for news stories, and have that a core component of their business plan and operations.
  • Measure what matters - and it's not the traditional news metrics of readership.  Exploit the data-rich environment of online metrics.
  • Move to where your audience is - how people obtain and consume news is changing. The sustainable news organization needs to recognize that, and follow.  Don't expect the audience to conform to your preferences.
  • Strive for diversity in funding, and build partnerships.  News alone won't keep news organizations economically viable over the long term.  Look for ways to build relationships with readers and sponsors that can lead to revenue streams into the future.  Having multiple revenue streams also helps to keep the organization independent and flexible.
Actually, this is good advice for all news organizations.  The media environment is changing, news consumption patterns are shifted, and the news biz today is hyper-competitive.   Those who continue old patterns and habits will find the market and audiences passing them by.

Sources -  Finding a Foothold: How NonProfit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,  Knight Foundation Report.

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