One of the bright spots in my 2016 survey of independent online news organizations was that six non-profits have achieved revenue diversity to the point that none depends on a single source for 50 percent or more of its annual revenue.
That’s a sign they are moving toward sustainability in a challenging environment — or at least that they are less vulnerable if one major funding source falters, such as a major donor pulling out or a foundation grant running its course.
The March-April survey of 93 publishers representing 103 publications was conducted on Michele’s List, a database of independent sites that is produced in collaboration with the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. A full summary of the results and the dataset is available on the Tow-Knight website.
I asked each publisher to list revenue sources that accounted for less than 50 percent of their revenue, as either secondary sources (20-49 percent) or smaller sources (less than 20 percent). Here’s what the six non-profits listed:
6 Case Studies
MinnPost: With revenue of $1.87 million annually, secondary sources: Local advertising, small donations (less than $1,000) including membership, large donations ($1,000 or more), foundation grants. Smaller sources: Events. MinnPost was launched in 2007.
New England Center for Investigative Reporting: With revenue of $1.1 million, secondary sources are foundation grants and investigative journalism training. Smaller sources: Content sales, university support. NECIR was launched in 2009.
Voice of San Diego: Launched in 2005, the site’s annual revenue in 2015 was $1.77 million. Secondary sources are local advertising, large donations ($1,000 or more), and foundation grants. Smaller sources are small donations, membership, sponsorships, and syndication.
VTDigger: The Vermont government watchdog site, launched in 2009, listed large donations ($1,000 or more) and sponsorships as secondary sources of revenue with smaller amounts from foundation grants and content syndication. Annual revenue: $1 million.
Investigative Post: Launched in 2012 in western New York state, the site has three secondary streams: Large donations ($1,000 or more), foundation grants, and syndication; and smaller streams from small donations, events and membership. Annual revenue: $101,000 – $250,000.
San Francisco Public Press: The site lists small donations, foundation grants and membership as secondary sources with smaller shares from large donations, events, merchandise, sponsorship, and syndication. The site, launched in 2009 has annual revenue between $101,000 – $250,000.
Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem, whether it is online news start ups working to become sustainable or traditional news organizations that are trying to shape their new role in the digital world. In addition to being the senior program consultant for Knight Digital Media Center, Michele has served as a Knight Community Information Challenge Circuit Rider who advises community foundations that are supporting news and information projects in their areas. She founded the Block by Block Community News Summit for independent online community publishers and she created and publishes Michele’s List, a database of promising local news start ups, in collaboration with the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.