Event Transcript: Future of Nonprofit Journalism
Future of Nonprofit Journalism
Friday, September 20, 2013
Pew Research Center
Transcript follows below the video.
Part I: Future Prospects for Financial Sustainability
Alan Murray, Pew Research Center:
It was clear from the research that we did that while most of the nonprofit news organizations we were talking to — or many of them at least — were starting with foundation funding, the expectation was that they would diversify their revenue streams and eventually be able to wean off of that funding. What both reports seem to suggest is that the glass is either half empty or half full, however you choose to view it. I will point out that I think our survey showed that this is by nature a very optimistic bunch, so you all seem to view it as half full. I think [about] 80% of the people we surveyed were convinced that they would still be solvent in five years from now, which I’m not sure we would’ve said that at The Wall Street Journal a few years ago. [Laughter] So we might not have been correct, but Dick Tofel, let me start with you because you’re the gorilla in the room. Forty-four employees, that’s like Napoleon’s army in this crowd and get you to address what is the elephant in the room. When the Sandlers go away, is there life? Are you getting there? Are you getting where you need to get or do you have the diversified revenue to continue?
Dick Tofel, ProPublica:
For us, I think the answer is yes. The Sandlers started out at probably close to 95% of the funding. Last year we had them down to 38% of the funding and this year I hope we’ll get under 30%. So that is very important diversification. I do think, as we talk about foundations as we go through this, I would distinguish – because I think it’s a fundamentally important distinction between family foundations, which I think are analytically indistinguishable from wealthy individuals who give away their money through another vehicle, and institutional foundations, which is to say people whose job it is as the Knight Foundation and many others represented in the room, to give away money that was originally somebody else’s. Those lead you to very different places.
Murray: In what sense?
Tofel: Well, the behavior of an institutional foundation [unintelligible] – and I used to work in one – are quick to remind you they cannot fund you for 20 years in a row. They could a little bit, but they probably shouldn’t and it’s not their job to send a general operating support check to the same place for 20 years in a row. If they were going to do that, why would they need the people to run the place? The idea is that they should be a little bit more of the cutting edge. They should be a little bit more venture capital. High net worth individuals, or whatever euphemism you want to use – people often support the same cause for a long, long time. Last point, diversification of revenues I would think of and again, analytically in two different ways. One is how much is one going to diversify away from philanthropy all together and how much is one going to diversify within philanthropy to arrange a different source?
Murray: Good. We should definitely come back to that, but let me go to John Thornton because Dick Tofel’s comments made me wonder if you’re prepared to support the Texas Tribune forever or you’re trying to create a sustainable model so it doesn’t have to depend on your contributions.
John Thornton, Texas Tribune, Austin Ventures:
When Captain Sullenberger flew the jet into the Hudson, there was a line that came after in the telling of the story and at some point he said to his co-pilot, “My airplane,” and when I put my second million dollars in I said, “Evan, your airplane. So you’re it.” So the answer is, “I’m done,” but that’s, I think, great news for the Tribune – in the sense that that has been the ideal all along, is that we would, over time, diversify to the point that major philanthropy, which we define as any gift over $5,000, would be sort of gravy and would be used for new initiatives rather than to keep the lights on. We’re not there. We’re still about a third reliant on major philanthropy.
Murray: So you’re distinguishing major philanthropy from member small donors…
Thornton: $5,000 and up. The accounts don’t let us treat it that way but we think anything $5,000 and up we wish we could not run that through our income statement. We think of that as equity investment, and so we’d like to just not think about that as anything but investment in the business. We don’t think about it as sustainable revenue.
Murray: You’re comfortable with that, Emily? You’re going to get there?
Emily Ramshaw, Texas Tribune:
I think the goal for us obviously is to move more toward earned revenue and it’s what we’ve been doing from the beginning. I think from an editorial standpoint – talking about foundations for a second, our goal is obviously to wean ourselves as much as we can off of major philanthropy and off of foundation money because it’s – well to put it bluntly, there are strings attached often. When you think about foundation dollars, the foundation money that we get generally comes with some kind of editorial responsibility and that’s either a responsibly for a deliverable, that’s a responsibility to build a particular data interactive, it’s a responsibility to write X number of stories on a particular subject policy vertical. So I think generally speaking, the goal for us is to move as much toward earned revenue as humanly possible because there are no strings attached.
Murray: That makes you sound like the bad guy salesman. You attach strings to your grants? [Laughter]
Elspeth Revere, John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation:
Sometimes. [Laughter] Generally, we don’t actually. Not with our journalism grants. Generally, as much as possible, we make them general operating support grants. Of course, we do require reports.
Murray: You want out at some point?
Revere: Inevitably we reach a point where we have to move on but we don’t go into – in our media work, we actually don’t think about this as having a time limit. There are areas of our work where we do. This is not one. Will we go 20 years with a grant? We have gone almost that long with some organizations. There are some places we’ve been supporting for 20 – 25 years. POV [PBS documentaries] comes to mind as a place we’ve supported for I think 25 years.
Murray: Dan, you? Will you do 20 – 25 years?
Dan Green, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
It’s possible. Particularly because with certain foundations like ours that have specific objectives that are well beyond journalism but are about informing, engaging even much more for knowledge building on certain issues.
Murray: It sort of then starts to sounds like the strings that Emily was talking about. [Laughter]
D. Green: Yes, there are strings. So the strings are which is why funding organizations that actually embrace the notion that they’re responsible for informing and engaging certain audiences on certain issues, those are things where if that’s the best alternative for a certain foundation with certain goals, you’ll keep doing it.
Murray: All right. Joel, how many employees do you have now?
Joel Kramer, MinnPost:
I always find that a hard question because we have so many different types of part time contract/freelance, but I’d say it’s in the range of 20 – 22 full time equivalents.
Murray: Yes, and are you getting towards sustainable business model?
Kramer: We’re getting towards it. We’re not fully there for a couple of reasons. One, my wife and I work and don’t take a salary and eventually that will have to be replaced by somebody who does. Secondly, we haven’t built the kind of reserves that I would call – what’s required for a stable organization. I do want to go back to something very interesting I think that between what Dick said and what John said, which relates to this definition of what is sustainable. If you used the model that John used, that any gifts over $5,000 are not part of your operations, then you are really trying to achieve a kind of sustainability that the vast majority of non-traffic cultural institutions for example in the United States – I don’t know if they aspire to it but none of them [crosstalk]. The orchestras, public radio, the museums. They all get large numbers of $5,000 annual gifts as part of their operations. So I’m not saying that’s not a desirable goal…
Murray: But you think it’s not realistic?
Kramer: No. It may not be unrealistic for the Texas Tribune…
Kramer: What I’m saying is that the definitions matter because that is a kind of sustainability that almost resembles being in a for- profit, whereas what Dick was talking about, diversification within philanthropy, we get half our donations from people who give $1,000 or more, but we get half from smaller gifts. Well, is that philanthropy? Some people call it philanthropy, some people call it membership, but we’re not really giving a lot back. I think of it as just smaller version of philanthropy, smaller donors. So I think the question of what kind of sustainability you’re after matters. What MinnPost is after and aspires to and is making progress on, but is not there is to not be dependent on foundations for more than say, 10% or 15% of our budget but within the rest, we are agnostic as to whether we make the money from “true earned income” by nonprofit standards like advertising versus whether we get it from donors.
Murray: Do you have a goal for donations versus earning?
Kramer: Right now we get about 25% of our money from advertising and sponsorship, but we would like to get that higher, but we are comfortable with the fact that most of our money is philanthropy – most of our money comes from individuals.
Murray: Let’s hear from some of the small guys, and for purposes of this discussion, big is anybody with a double digit number of full time employees but we’ve got three people right here at the end of the table who are well below that standard. Which of you would like to talk about how it’s going? Susan?
Susan Mernit, Oakland Local:
So we spend about 30% of our income from ads as well and that kind of earned income is super important to us because part of our mission is to help local small business but the place where we don’t have the resources to really do everything we’d like to is really in individual philanthropy and family foundations. So we’ve done well with national grants to support journalism projects but the kind of team – we have two people who basically are full time and a lot of freelancers, it’s been really hard too…
Murray: Two people total at Oakland…?
Mernit: Yes. A lot of freelancers and volunteers and it’s been really hard to find the resources both to build up a really competent ad team and then to really work on the board development and the kind of giving that I think some of you have really excelled at.
Murray: Based on our survey, that’s not just a problem for those small organizations, that’s a problem for the big organizations. I think the majority of people said that they didn’t have either the time or the resources to build up the business side of the business. Brian, how many employees?
Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow:
We have four employees and I wish foundation money was a bigger problem for me. [Laughter]
Murray: Somebody here can help you with that.
Wheeler: You know, the two grants in our budget this year haven’t come through yet, so most of our support comes from individual donors. For us, the threshold is $1,000. So $1,000 up is a major donor and that’s more than 50% of our revenue. We also have underwriting on the website and that’s about 14%.
Murray: You call it underwriting, not advertising?
Wheeler: I’ll call it whatever it takes to get it. [Laughter] It doesn’t matter to me what we call it.
Dylan Smith, LION, TucsonSentinel.com:
Call it what you want – advertising, sponsorship, just as long as there’s exchange for a check on something on the website, that terminology doesn’t matter so much. We have one full time employee, essentially me, and the rest a team of freelancers just to ensure that we remain as flexible as possible as our income ebbs and flows. I certainly like to have more people dedicated full-time and just depends on the… On election night, we’ve got the biggest news team in town and other times it’s me plugging away all by myself.
Murray: So how does that work on election night? Do you have volunteers?
Smith: Volunteers and some really good freelancers and we just could go out and kick some ass.
Murray: So who wants to talk about this balance between resources devoted to content and resources devoted to developing the business, which was a consistent theme in the surveys that we did? Yes, Kevin.
Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network:
So [Investigative News Network], as you know, has 86 members now of the 172. So we’re about 50% and we see some stratification obviously, too. One of adages I like to sort of say is that if you give a reporter $100,000, they’re going to spend $99,000 on the reporting. So we spent a lot of time educating nonprofits on how to bifurcate the business side from the editorial side, but the fact is that – I don’t know how to say this any other way, but the reason why a lot of these folks got into the nonprofit is to keep investigative journalism going, but the reason why they are nonprofit is because they are mission driven organizations, not revenue driven organizations. So the IRS and the thinking of charity and the way that works is such that their expectation is that philanthropy remains a very big part of the mix and we see that as well. So on one hand, we’re seeing more resources being put towards the business side but the fact is that the content still remains the biggest push within most of the smaller organizations because they feel like the business is saying they do after hours. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, it’s just something that…
Murray: It is what it is.
Murray: Now some of that, in our survey – Chris, let me put you on the spot – some of that in our survey they said came from the donors, that the donors wanted most of the money to go to the mission as Kevin put it and not to overhead or…
Chris Daggett, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation:
Unfortunately, some of the statistics that people rely on for good philanthropy is the least amount of money as possible going into administration or to the organization itself. We try adage to frankly, give most of our money to general operating support because we’re trying to give people as much flexibility as possible. To me, the organizational side and what we call the technical assistance side, helping organizations develop whether it’s fund raising capability or organizational development or whatever it happens to be is as or more important than the other things that they’re doing, to be honest with you.
Murray: So how do we change that here today? That’s a consistent theme. It seems to be pretty general agreement. If someone ran the table once and argued with the notion, but pretty general agreement that all of you need to be spending a greater share of your funding on developing the business. Yes? Feather.
Feather Houstoun, Wyncote Foundation:
I just want to draw a distinction here because this is a very – has a bit of a clinical feel to it. I’ve now been sort of up close and personal with about five of these and they all seem to start with people who come out of legacy journalism of one kind or another where no matter where they are, the community they’re in, and I suspect some of these are that way too – in legacy journalism, everybody had classifieds, groceries, and car dealers and so the business model was fairly simple. When you get into the kind of work that people are doing now, you’re dealing with different funder communities and donor communities, different expectations in the constituencies that you’re aiming at, but I think the thing that’s been the most striking to me across the ones we’ve seen is how hugely different the entrepreneurial impulses of the leadership is. So when you talk sort of clinically about what proportion of your business should be here versus there…
Murray: They’re doing what their passion is.
Houstoun: They’re following or they just don’t have the entrepreneurial bone in their body. It’s a big part I think of why we’re having this conversation, but without it in the DNA of the organization, they’re never going to make it. So I just think it’s a little bit more idiosyncratic to the organization. If we see an organization that is doing all the right things about figuring out how to diversify revenue, we wouldn’t be looking at what that proportion is because we can see them doing it. If they can’t produce even a plan to think about it after three or four years, you know you’ve got a problem.
Murray: You’re right. Let me say, if anybody wants to jump into this discussion, just take your name card and turn it sideways. I think it will stand upside. Jeff’s testing it. It works. [Laughter] But first I want to go to Ruth.
Ruth McCambridge, Nonprofit Quarterly:
You know, I think this is interesting because I think that the categorizations of things get mixed up here. We want to talk about business, but we are in a nonprofit setting and therefore the definitions of things are a little bit different. So I think that when people look at this level of donor issue, it really has to do with independence. So in our shop, what we do is we categorize all individual donors without strings attached as payments. It’s earned revenue. Somebody’s paying because they like what we’re producing. We’re not charging anything because that doesn’t work in this environment, but we consider these to be voluntary payments. It’s earned revenue. We consider the same of any underwriting or sponsorship we have because we have to earn that by the quality of our work. What we don’t want to do is to exchange editorial, our editorial judgment for the money. That’s essentially what it is. We don’t want to exchange the focus of our content or the quality of our content for money.
Murray: How about the quantity?
McCambridge: And the quantity. We don’t want to have to do that, but I think the question is we want the quantity because we want the impact. The quantity, once we get it and we have the impact, it produces income in voluntary payments if we work it right but getting to where it works right and where people have the expectation to pay for it actually takes capital. I don’t think that we’ve gotten to the place yet in this field where we understand how much capital it takes to build up a good, strong set of individual donors and how much capital it takes to build up sponsorships, but I feel like our business model has to include – these are our strategic advantages as nonprofits. We can use volunteers as part of our structures and we can take volunteering money.
Murray: Jeff and then Margaret.
Jeff Jarvis, Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism (CUNY):
Quick question first to Amy. Do we have any sense of the 172 sites what their total reach is?
Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Center:
Total reach in terms of audience?
Jarvis: Total reach. People. Audience.
Mitchell: I don’t think so. I think [crosstalk]
[Male]: Measured in…?
Jarvis: Just people. Unique.
Mitchell: In terms of unique? Well, because one – and hopefully we’ll talk about our content partnerships where the work that these organizations are doing, it’s being carried in the daily newspaper or in others that have a wider audience reach.
Jarvis: I’d like to know that, but the reason I asked is we have a lot of brain power around the table being excluded. Talking about something that I think – we’re talking about a nation of 300+ million people, the 172 sites isn’t a lot. We have to remember that those sites fit in an ecosystem and there’s a choice – Feather’s absolutely right. Journalists do not think like entrepreneurs that’s why he chose [unintelligible] entrepreneurial journalism and some of them can’t be taught but some of them can be and some of them get the passion for it. You people have Elizabeth Green down the table who started not for profit and she’s a great sales person. The question comes at some point is why are you for profit? Why are you not for profit? So I think it’s a bit of a red herring to make the whole organization of the thought around just not for profit. There’s a question of sustainability. There’s a question of value. There’s a question of the business skills necessary to do administration and marketing and selling whether it’s advertisers or users.
Murray: Presumably these issues are no less pressing for the ones that are organized as for-profits?
Jarvis: I get in trouble with my granola colleagues when I refused to allow my students to do not for profit but that’s because the discipline of learning the business is higher at the forefront. At the end of the day it’s a tax decision.
Murray: I do think it’s a bit of a journalist blind spot. I remember after 911 when I went to South Brunswick for the first time where all the business people and the Wall Street Journal works. Who the hell are these people? We thought we were The Wall Street Journal and there were these thousands of people making phone calls and taking orders and doing all these things but Elizabeth, you’ve got such a big buildup there, I feel like I should give you the opportunity to say something if you like and then we’ll come over to Margaret.
Elizabeth Green, Education News Network:
Okay. Well, I was going to say that I actually – so we’re an organization now. We merged to nonprofit education news sites and local communities and now we have – I just calculated – we will have 12.5 full time employees by the end of the year. So I guess we’re big but I feel pretty small.
Murray: Yes. By our criteria, you’re big.
E. Green: I was going to say that from my perspective, I think our funders here, what these reports say and they tell us, “Please invest in your business side,” and the question that I’m asking myself more often is exactly what constitutes a business side? My understanding of that has gotten a lot sharper over time but to me, that’s where the conversation should go. Not what’s the percentage but really, what do we mean when we say that for our [crosstalk]?
Murray: You mean what are the different ways that you can monetize your site?
E. Green: No. I mean what are the specific functions and roles? So I think we have a pretty good idea of how we should be monetizing and we’re doing it and we can invest in that going forward, but beyond just investing in earned revenue creation, there are other elements that constitute business that are important, that get that done, that I didn’t count in that column. So, marketing and distribution and engagement and operations. These are all things that, pretty much, we need to build from scratch.
Murray: Is there a model that would be applicable to the organization sitting around this table? Are you all so different that there is no model that would apply to each? Margaret, speaking of mergers, you’re merging with the local public station aren’t you …?
Margaret Freivogel, St. Louis Beacon:
Right. Yes. St. Louis Public Radio. It’s on track to happen. I wanted to pick up a little bit on what Feather said about how you get entrepreneurial bones in the bodies of these journalists, and a little bit on what Jeff said. I think that there are different ways that you can infuse an organization with an entrepreneurial spirit. Some people have it naturally. You can specifically bring someone into the organization that can do that or you can partner with someone who has those skills, and it’s part of the rationale behind the partnership that’s coming up [with] the merger between The Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio, but I think there’s a…
Murray: Because they know how to do it. They know [crosstalk].
Freivogel: Well, they have certain established – they’ve got a big base of small donors. We have a great base of large donors. There’s some complementary business things, and we were either going to have to build those things on the business side for ourselves or partner with someone and on the news side. They were either going to have to build a much bigger newsroom or partner with someone who had it. So that’s a good match there, but I think there’s an issue of size here. Getting [into] a little bit of what Jeff said, the point is it’s not really are you for-profit or nonprofit. It’s are you doing the mission of public service? Which is why the nonprofit sector came up, because that was falling out of a lot of what the for-profit sector was doing. I looked at the numbers in these studies and so many of the organizations are very small and producing content very sporadically. So that’s a problem both on the business side for getting the necessary resources and skills as entrepreneurs, and it’s a problem on the impact side, and I think that’s a central problem that all of us have to think about. If we’re really going to fill the gap that we saw opening up, it takes some size to do it.
Murray: Eric, you’ve been making grants in this area for how long?
Eric Newton, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
Twelve years, I guess. One thing I wanted to say was inspired by what Jeff just said, which is: this is all so new. You’re also new as a large group. We really don’t have the kind of measurements that the legacy media have been developing, in some cases for a century, and so we can’t even say how many people consume your stuff. We can say how many people look at your websites, but until you know exactly how many people consume your stuff and doing things like what Dick is doing with tagging at ProPublica to try to get a sense of the overall audience, then it’s hard for us to sell this to other funders because your 172 [nonprofit news outlets] might be [generating] $50 million. It might be. It might be more, or as many people [unintelligible] or it might not be, it might be way more people than go to the symphony, but until we know, it’s harder to make the argument to foundations and individuals that don’t traditionally fund media. So I think that it may sound basic, but I think it’s really a big deal.
Murray: That’s one more thing you don’t have the money to spend on, right?
Murray: And technology. Technology is another issue that maybe we’ll talk about a little bit after the break, but Steve, let me get you in here.
Steve Beatty, The Lens:
Sure. I’m one of the legacy guys that Feather talked about that was not put on this planet to manage money. John talked about equity investment and I’m like, “Equity investment…” [Laughter] I have look [to] that up later to make sure I’m down with it. I’ve got the journalism part down pretty good. We have a lot of employees now, and one of them is a non-journalist. It’s our development director. I thought, “Oh great, I’ve hired the one person who’s going to go out and raise all my money. I’m done with that. I’m going to go take care of the journalism.” [Laughter] Through some programs and some tough love and Kevin Davis and some partners at INN [Investigative News Network], I’ve realized my journalism days are over. I’ve got to be a business person. Yeah. [Laughter] It’s been tough, but it’s absolutely critical, and I’ve recently hired a half-time person to do some more outreach and marketing events and [to] steal plenty of ideas from Emily’s organization in putting on events that we can sell sponsorships against. One thing I wanted to bring up, though: our friends at the end of the table [said] it doesn’t matter what the check is for, whether it’s advertising or sponsorships. I don’t know how you square that with your accountant. Whether there’s some taxable income that you get from true advertising versus what we’d like to call underwriting.
[Male]: I only do underwriting, but if I’m talking to a small-business person who wants to get the word out about their business, even though I’m only going to take something that is not is a call-to-action ad, I’m going to speak to him in his own terms and call that an ad because that’s what’s going to make that sale. But that doesn’t mean it is going to be advertising in the IRS sense.
Murray: You’re probably not going to take your accountant with you on the sales call. [Laughter]
Penny Abernathy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
Let me [speak] half as a journalist and half on the other side. When I made the transition, I figured out … what was in common between the two, and it is that you need to ask the question: Who’s your primary customer? You cannot go for funding, you cannot go for sponsorship, unless you have a clear notion of who your primary customer is… whether you’re going for a grant or whether you’re looking at hiring a vice president of development or somebody who’s going to go out and raise the sponsorship. The second thing I wanted to [mention] was a point that’s come back to me several times as I’ve been doing a book on for-profit community news organizations over the last four/five years, and that is that we have been basically de facto geographic monopolies, and we still operate in isolation of one another. What hit me as I looked around [at everybody] that [is] here and at the report is how small and how isolated everyone is. And I was reminded of that wonderful quote from [unintelligible] in his book in 2009 that, “The key to sustainability is learning how to take advantage of the economics of networking in this age,” and so I think there’s both a way to think about pulling everything together on the nonprofit side, but also merging it better with the for-profit side, too, going forward.
Murray: Rose, you wanted to say something about that?
Rose Hoban, North Carolina Health News:
[Unintelligible] I wanted to point out that because we are in these little ecosystems, really, where you are, in many ways, is going to determine how you do. I’ll talk later about some of the difficulties I’ve had with other editors and publishers in North Carolina, getting them to accept the model that I’m doing. Since I’m doing a state-based model, you need to reach out to them and if they’re like, ‘it’s hard to do,’ then you kind of end up relying on donors, because you can’t get the business side to kind of…
Murray: But is there a serious scale problem here? … Maybe what you really need to be doing is go out there and look for partners, either in other locales or within your market, that you can reach the kind of scale that lets you do what you need to do to build up these business skills? …
Smith: I get so tired of the idea that we need to scale things. Every one of the communities that we are in is so very different and has different needs, different holes to be filled, or [a] different situation where you can actually get some revenue developed that there’s not going to be one model. There’s not going to be one template [to] fill in the blanks: ‘do this, do this, do this…’
Murray: Patch is not the answer.
Smith: Well, we’ve seen the answer to whether Patch is the answer. The bloom is off that rose.
Murray: Brian, do you agree with that?
Wheeler: Small is beautiful. We don’t feel the need to get bigger in the respect of getting outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, but a point I would make is that many of the nonprofits in this room are highly networked to each other. We’ve been meeting for the past three years in Chicago at Block By Block – at that conference. We’re now part of the LION [Local Independent Online News] publisher’s group, and we’ll be meeting again in Chicago next month. So that’s been a really important vehicle for us to not feel isolated. In the daily work we do, we’re small; [we] have big impact in our community but we have learned a lot – I’ve learned a lot going to conferences, thanks to Knight, through the CJET [Community Journalism Executive Training] program, and learning best practices and bringing those back to Charlottesville. So I think there is a lot of activity going on that we need to recognize and thank people for convening us.
Murray: Dick, you’ve had that nametag up for a while.
Tofel: Yeah. I just wanted to introduce a little caveat to all of this stuff about how there is no fundamental difference between ‘nonprofit’ and ‘for-profit.’ There are a number of actually quite important differences and here’s one of them, which I just think we need to bear in mind. As you build a nonprofit, [unintelligible] was one of the very best business reporters I ever worked with, as you’ll know better than anybody, right? There are ways that great for-profits have been built that involve running losses for considerable periods of time that are economically rational because you are building enterprise value. Right? When Twitter lost a gazillion dollars – I don’t know how much they have lost over their first number of years – nobody at Twitter lost a minute’s sleep about it because they knew they would get to where they got to this week, which is ‘we have enterprise value.’ The thing is worth $1 billion or $2 billion or however many billion and it’s all good. Nonprofits have no enterprise value. There is no way to realize it and because of that, top-line growth counts for nothing. Bottom-line growth is all that matters. Now, you can do top-line growth as long as it will, in relatively due course, lead to bottom-line growth, or if you have very patient investors who are willing to lose a lot of money and never get it back – donors – you can do that too, but this is a fundamental distinction and I think people (as I did) who spent their first 20 years or 30 years or whatever, in the for profit media, can sometimes miss about how you build a nonprofit business.
Murray: That’s a good point. We’re going to go to Elspeth, Kevin, Ruth, and Joel…Then we’re going to take a break. So I urge you to be very quick and then we’re going to get some coffee and then we’re going to come back and talk about – we’ll leave the business behind because we’ve solved it and we’ll talk about engagement. Elspeth?
Revere: I have been noting with great delight the distribution partnerships that many of the groups around the table and others have been engaged in. Lots of them with other nonprofits but some with for-profit organizations. I note it [with] delight, although I sort of hide it from our legal counsel at the foundation because I’m not sure how that would be taken, but I’ve also thought about – maybe somebody just wants to talk to me about this at the break – but I’ve also thought about the fact that the nonprofits will not, at least in the foreseeable future, be reimbursed the cost of producing that information. So one of the things that comes to my mind sitting and listening to this is that a resource those for-profit organizations have is marketing, PR, human resources, all of those business things, and they’re probably underutilized right now, whereas the nonprofits are giving them great content at very, very little cost if any cost at all. So I’m wondering whether there’s any possibility of trying to make some deals there.
Murray: Good. I got the timing wrong. We have more time…I’m not going to let you take a break as quickly….
[Male]: That’s great, Alan, because I want to interrupt. [Crosstalk] [Laughter] The News 21 Project at Arizona State has all these content partners like what you’re talking about. They trade the stories for business intelligence of who’s reading them. So they know what their overall aggregate audience is. So the news organizations in that instance are not getting charged any money, but they have to come up with something in return for the content.
Davis: So one of the other wrinkles here, of course, is investigative journalism and also journalism that serves underserviced communities and communities that frankly are not monetizable directly, right? So one of the things that we talk about a lot is if you’re in a market, if you look at even at INN’s distribution, we tend to be not where the news [unintelligible] are, although we’re getting increasingly there, but we tend to be in markets that support this journalism. So one of the things I’ve said, and this is with the greatest respect to the larger organizations in the room, if only [unintelligible], ProPublica, and Texas Tribune survive, we will have failed. Right? That really truthfully, I think the need is to makes sure that communities throughout the United States, often in underserved and very poor communities, also have viable models.
Murray: Which happens to be what you’re doing?
Davis: We’re trying. So when we look at this and we say, “Which business models fit?” it really does depend on the market – we’ve said this many different ways – it does depend on the market. And frankly, sometimes a journalist – an example would be Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation – does six reports a year. And when they do their reports, their traffic spikes for about a week and it’s great stuff – in-depth stuff, business stuff – but they’re not equipped to have ongoing conversations with their communities. So they have to, by necessity, distribute their content out, and the value proposition for what they produce is very, very different than when you’re producing content in ongoing basis. So it’s very important, I think, that we don’t lose sight that not every type of nonprofit has the same market opportunity or the same commercial opportunity or the same revenue opportunity.
Murray: The result of that, how do you address that?
Davis: We have to convince more people that, frankly, I still think the philanthropy needs to be in the mix and we need to understand it. To Jeff’s point, there is an ecosystem here, and … certain content will need to be subsidized if we believe it’s important. And it is unrealistic and frankly, not necessarily – I wouldn’t say it’s disingenuous – but not every nonprofit’s going to be self-sustainable.
Murray: How many of the organizations – and I’ll come back to you, Rose – but how many of the organizations represented here in the room – just a quick show of hands – believe that the majority of the journalism you do is investigative journalism. Raise your hand. So it’s close to half, maybe a little over half. I think our survey showed of the 93 of us, twenty-something?
Mitchell: A little less than half, yes.1
Murray: Yes. Ruth?
McCambridge: I actually had a very similar thought to Kevin. One of the things that I thought was really fascinating about the Knight report is that it begins to actually set up visual patterns of revenue models for particular kinds of journalism groups. I think that is it gets to Kevin’s point, that we’re not all going to look the same. Some of us are going to be very attractive to advertisers and some of us will not be at all attractive to advertisers. Some of us are going to be great at attracting corporate sponsors and others of us won’t. So the question is, what types of organizations can attract what kind of revenue and with what kind of effort and tools? Actually, one of the things that excited me about coming to this meeting today was looking at these two reports and beginning to see these patterns of business models. That’s in fact what we need as nonprofit news sites to be able to move forward. I do think that we have some extra tools to work with, which is what I was trying to say before. We have some extra tools because we are nonprofits and we should make…
Murray: Such as?
McCambridge: Particularly, we have the ability to ask for and receive tax deductible donations and to say to people, “We’re dependent on you because we are a nonprofit. We’re not enriching ourselves through that.” That’s a very powerful tool. Secondly, that we can – we’re attractive to volunteers because we’re not enriching ourselves through volunteer activity either. So it looks like a common project for a volunteer. These two things also are somewhat connected because they are civic benefits that we get from being nonprofits. In fact, Wikipedia found – recently, they did a very, very big fundraising project – and they found that the rates of giving amongst the people who actually put their hands to the editing was much higher than the rates of giving among people who just consumed a product. That says something about engagement that I think we really need to listen to. So for us smaller people who are likely to use volunteers and maybe are not going to get as much big donor money, this is in fact an incredibly important piece of information. A realm that we need to work.
Murray: Because donors become consumers, committed consumers?
McCambridge: Well, active volunteers can become donors, and they also will attract a bunch of consumers because they themselves are networked. So it’s a business model of a type that I think we need to explore, but I think there are a number of these kinds of business models around the work that we’re doing that we haven’t quite surfaced so we can see them yet.
Murray: So we’re going to do John, then Vincent, then Rose, but before we do, we haven’t really talked about events at all. Has anybody around the table making significant revenue from events? Emily?
Ramshaw: I mean, I think that from the very beginning, [at] the Tribune, this was, I think, the biggest eye-opener to me – that this many people actually want to be in a room together at 7:30 in the morning for a breakfast policy hearing on water, for example. You can have a sellout crowd. I know I was going to talk about this a little bit in the community engagement side, but what’s been fascinating – and I think I saw it in the Knight report that a ton of you were starting to do this – is just how much money can be made around sponsorships and attendance of these events.
Murray: Yes. It’s a little bizarre because the audience is so much smaller, and yet often the dollars are bigger. Anybody else want to say anything about events before we go? Emily, did you want to get in on that?
Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism (Columbia University):
Yes. Just my background, I [was with the] Guardian for a long time where actually, that sense of community is much more easily fostered when you can offer something, which is – and this is statement of the obvious, which is bandwidth-restricted and that’s not putting [unintelligible]. It’s rather offering people live experience. If you look at just [unintelligible] of attendance across everything, the more you have to [unintelligible] ubiquity of information, the more people want to actually kind of have excuses to meet each other and it’s such an obvious observation. It still feels like it’s hardly worth saying, but at the same time I think it’s just one of those societal trends with news because it convenes so well; has always seen the kind of conference businesses [unintelligible]. It’s been sort of something that people want to keep away from because it felt like a different type of business model, but it seems to me like a very obvious concrete way of taking your reach and impact and turning it to money.
Murray: So you think there’s an opportunity that has not been fully tapped by the folks in this room?
Bell: You know, I really do. I think that as I say, if you were in the middle of New York City, it’s always hard to get people to come to an event but actually everywhere else, that idea that you can convene and meet as you do more shopping online, as …everything else becomes a frictionless experience.
Murray: I think Tina Brown just coined a new phrase for this sort of activity as she got booted out the door at the Daily Beast. She was going off to do ‘theatrical journalism.’ So maybe more theatrical journalism is what we need. John?
Ramshaw: I was just going to say quickly, there’s a cost associated with this, obviously. I think John probably knows this better than I do, but I think last year we spent almost $200,000 putting on these events and ended up bringing in almost $1 million but … not everybody’s in Austin. So we were spending money going all over the state to try to sort of engage folks and bring them in. So it’s not cost-neutral … there are a lot of bodies involved in putting on [a] production of this nature and to make a sizeable revenue dent.
Murray: Hard for the small guys, you think? No, Rose? You don’t -? You disagree?
Murray: Oh, not hard, impossible?
Hoban: I don’t have the capacity. I just don’t have the capacity. Unless I can find someone who’s a volunteer coordinator to do the whole event, I’m a one-person shop with a bunch of freelancers like Dylan [Smith].
Murray: Jeff disagrees. [Crosstalk] It’s a “cooties” reaction. [Laughter]
Jarvis: No, no. Not at all. I spare my cooties for the most important moments. No. I think that we found – when we did research on business models – we found that there are a lot of [unintelligible] that are doing them well. Brownstoner in Brooklyn is a key example. Brooklyn-based. There are a lot of local blogs that do this and find value in not only using it as a way to get content, [but also to] bring people together – sponsors, vendors, all kinds of things.
Murray: Susan, you have something to say on that?
Mernit: I didn’t raise my hand originally because [of] the part about making significant money – I couldn’t say yes. I think part of it is about knowing your market and your audience. We’re in Oakland, which is a poor community. I look at Berkeley with envy. We’ve had over 2,500 people come to our events in the past year. We convene events all the time and we sell out every time. We’re great at it.
Murray: But no revenue?
Mernit: Well, revenue, yes. We’re in a community where we have to charge, [on] average, $15 or less for an event, have a sliding scale for people who truly cannot afford to pay, which people do not use heavily. Most people who can, they pay. If we clear $300 on a $1,000 event, we’ve done really well. So we really use it as a marketing outreach and community engagement tool. From a profit perspective, it’s not cost-effective, but we love events and we’re super-committed to them as engagement, but the $150 conference – for our particular market, we would have to change our market to make that really work.
Murray: Okay. John and Vincent, then Tom, then Rose. I guess that wasn’t your – your comment was a non-event [comment]. So you still want in here?
Hoban: Well, I’m trying to do a statewide media organization. So I’m trying to build readership all over the state, so where do I do it? My state’s 450 miles in one direction. So no one place to do it. I have big readerships in two of the major markets, but I….
Murray: I’d pick the mountains or the beach.
Hoban: Yes. Exactly.
Thornton: I think one of the things that knits a bunch of the really smart things that have been said here together is this coming back to the notion of equity investors versus revenue, coming back to the notion that Dick was talking about in terms of the difference between building a for-profit and nonprofit enterprise, and the willingness and forethought required on behalf of – and I’m going to call them investors not donors, just my sales shoes on – to fund for our losses. And that, to me, is the difference between equity and revenue. So all of these things are incredibly important at a tactical level. Some of them at a strategic level. In my mind, the most important thing that needs to be done is the consciousness-raising of a new generation of equity investors in these things. Because… the reason you can’t [unintelligible] is because you didn’t raise the equity upfront. I’m not saying that in any imaginable scenario you would have, but it requires that level of forward investment to go get the events person.
Murray: So how do we do that? How do we raise the consciousness of…?
Kramer: I don’t know. I don’t know but it’s really on my mind, because in ’08-’09 there was this sort of blip of conversation about informing communities or nonprofit journalism, or whatever you want to call it, as a category of philanthropy. That sort of fizzled when people realized that newspapers weren’t just going to go away entirely, and so I don’t know the answer. But it’s damned important, and I just want to make sure everybody understands. I think bringing donors into this ecosystem is more important today, not less important, even though we’re pedaling like hell trying not to be dependent upon them
Murray: I’m going to come back to you, Joel, but I want to focus on the people we haven’t heard from yet, which is Vincent, Tom, Steve.
Vincent Stehle, Media Impact Funders:
To look in on the foundation piece of this with a little bit more nuance, I think there was some sweeping statements about what foundations are like, and what good is a generalization if it doesn’t sweep? But certainly, there are foundations on one end who are the large, very heavily-staffed types of organizations, and the others that are vest-pocket financial instruments on the behalf of a particular donor that’s very personal. And then there’s a lot of in-between – thousands of in-between, where particularly it might be lightly staffed but a strategic group of trustees that are doing this. So I think many of us were – a few of us were lucky enough to be with the Tow family last night at the Tow Foundation event celebrating 25 years of grant-making. They’re well known in this room because the [of] the Tow centers at CUNY [City University of New York] and Columbia [University], but they’re like a lot of other funders that mainly do other things and they do a little bit of media, which is important. You might not know of the [unintelligible] Foundation in Silicon Valley, which does mostly social innovation work, social entrepreneurs, but they also do some important work supporting David Bornstein’s work at the Solutions Journalism Network. And then, according to the upcoming data from the Foundation Center, 3,698 other foundations … are supporting some aspect of media. So it’s not just a handful of usual suspects who are staffed and then all of the rest of these are individuals who are just individual donors. There’s a lot of nuance in between, and I think that’s evident from your own data which says that 26 of the respondents had 75% – 100% of their income from foundation grants; 25 had between 25% and 75%; and 35 didn’t give an answer. So only 14 had less than 25% in foundation funding.2 So I think there’s a lot of work here that could be done to really develop that set of relationships and understand that better.
Murray: Yes. Tom?
Tom Glaisyer, Democracy Fund:
I may go back a little bit to the question of theatrical journalism or event-based stuff. For me, if we abstract it back, journalism used to adhere to the page, the printed page. Now can we make it adhere to something else, to events, which clearly [unintelligible] has had great success at and seems quite recently to be a struggle for [a] one-person organization across a whole state. That sort of brings me to sort of the [unintelligible] of saying where the journalistic institution sits within its greater ecosystem and what it is capable of doing. …Just one example, the Zocalo Public Square folks, who sort of lead with the event-based journalism, the site is somewhat of a secondary thing to that and we’ve just got used to the printed page as the starting point and I just wonder if we can’t just think a lot more broadly about where it goes to maximize how we present the value proposition of the hard work that goes into creating this public [unintelligible] good.
Steve Waldman, Daily Bridge Media:
One quick point on the – we’ve talked about the business side and most people are treating that as synonymous with revenue, but there’s also the marketing side and when we talk about business or even non-editorial, it’s [unintelligible]. And also, we haven’t talked about technology, and I’m mentioning that because one of the things it might be interesting to tease out at some point is there’s a certain amount of work that is done by a local that is inherently local. There’s just no way around. There’s no way of sharing services. It just has to be done by a local group. But then there’s other functions that could be shared – that could be shared either among other groups in a network way, it could be shared if there were a shared services organization of some sort that [is] providing services – INN does some of this – but in the for-profit world, if a mogul was looking at a whole set of fragmented businesses, one of the things they would look at is whether or not there are certain economics of scale that could be achieved in that case by buying them all up. But that’s not the only way of achieving economies of scale.
Murray: So can you put a little meat on those bones? What are some of the – because I think it would be useful particularly for the foundations here – what are some of the kind of shared services that you think could be outsourced…?
Waldman: Well, I bet others will have more specifics, but for instance, everyone’s talked about development capacity, the ability to develop membership models. That’s an actual expertise. It’s not just a matter of labor. There’s some knowledge to that. If there were people that small groups could tap into, there may be software that they could tap into. There may be technology aspects that others have probably have specific ideas.
Murray: Joel and then Amy.
Kramer: Yes. I’m going to follow up on that, but first, I want to say I think the insight that there are many different kinds of organizations in this ecosystem with many inherently different business models because they have different missions – like the difference between an investigative site that writes maybe eight stories a year and relies on other media to distribute it versus sites like MinnPost that are trying to build their own audience through volume and then sell that audience through sponsorship and advertising – and they’re radically different. One of the challenges is you bring together groups of people like this, and I know Kevin has this challenge in the variety he has in INN and I think you got this problem in this room. You bring all these people together and they are not in the same business and they don’t have the same models and they don’t have the same needs. Then, if you do have advice for certain subsets, they don’t have the resources to carry them out. So the suggestion that I would make – we haven’t really…
Murray: It sounds like the suggestion is, “Go home.” [Laughter]
Kramer: No, no. No, that’s not it. You haven’t asked for solutions, but one thing that could be done I believe is to divide this ecosystem into subgroups that actually have a common pattern and interest and treat them as separate groups and then have the – whether it’s the foundation world or they’re wealthy donors or whoever, I think the foundations that care about journalism could be the leaders in doing this – invest in two things: One is the centralized services that Steve is talking about but then secondly, invest enough in the organizations that they will have the capacity on their end to make use of the services they provide to us.
Murray: I’m going to go to Amy first, but let’s use Joel, your comments, and Steve, your comments, as a kind of a pivot to use the 15 minutes or so that we have before the break to talk about, “Okay, what are the solutions that can come out of this conversation we’re having here today?” Amy?
Mitchell: Yes. I think what I was going to add – well, actually lead into that conversation too, which is spinning off what Steve said, but going back to what we heard very early on in this conversation which was at least a number of the funders in the room saying they might be in it for 20 years or more, and then Eric saying, “You got to show us that you’ve got some reach impact.” But we also know from our research that the majority of these nonprofits, even if they’re all very different, have a staff of less than five. So how do you show that you’re reaching audience and how do you become able to think about actually where you could go for revenue in your community versus somebody else’s community? Which then leads to the question of whether there are some non-monetary ways that these foundations can really offer support in a long term that would have even more lasting impact or help for your organization, whether it’s consulting on business strategy or developing technology platforms or whatever the case may be that could really be something that would bring help beyond just some dollars in the bank.
Murray: Okay. Solutions. Andy, we haven’t heard from you. I’m sure that’s because you’ve been sitting there formulating the answer to this question, right? Do you have anything to [add]? What would help you?
Andy Hall, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism:
Well, absolutely. The idea of consulting and offering access to expertise is very valuable, and we are in fact doing a lot of that through INN. [For] the upcoming CJET training, we’ll be breaking into groups under a coach and we’ll be working with some similarity situated centers, let’s say. So I think there is some recognition of that and Joel and I, our organizations, are collaborating on some work and we have a keen understanding of how different the goals of our organizations are. I think one thing we haven’t talked about regarding what could be shared is data, obviously, and the collaborations that we’ve done through INN and through other networks have been very successful. If the data has been made available journalistically – and I’m sure there would be business side applications for the sharing of data – donor development strategies, and even potential sharing of those donors, potential donors and the developmental strategies to work on the revenue.
Molly de Aguiar, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation:
Well, I can speak to what we’re doing in New Jersey, because we’re a New Jersey-focused foundation. We don’t attempt to try to treat all of the news and information entities in New Jersey, the ecosystem, as the same. So what we do instead is we fund an initiative at Montclair State University called Center for Cooperative Media, and their job is to listen to the ecosystem and understand what the needs are and then provide the services, whether it’s training – business training, we did CJET recently, data journalism training, pooled insurance pool liability [crosstalk]. Right. So they also set with Repost. Us, a content-sharing network. So there are probably 20 different news organizations in New Jersey that are all sharing content freely with one another.
Murray: Is this happening in any [other] places? Any of you? Yes, Kevin?
Davis: Yes. I think that New Jersey actually is really in many respects in the lead now as far as how a statewide thing can work, and great work there. Yes, it’s happening all over the place. You’ve got LION in the room. You’ve got INN in the room. There’s a number of these networks that are really sort of like these hubs that can then bring out – the idea then, of course, being the investments – this is not a pitch – investment through us can have – your dollar investment can have a multiplication effect. Just for example, get to another point. On the technology front, INN did a survey about a year and a half ago when we looked at internally at the INN members and we found that less than 6% of their budgets were being spent on technology. Could you imagine if you were in a newspaper or a TV – only spending 6% on getting signal out? So we invested in a very simple WordPress stack, and we now have over 45 organizations worldwide [and] 22 member organizations, and the next step is to integrate [unintelligible] into the WordPress stack. So, like Voice of San Diego, we can actually identify people who are coming in and actually move them along the conversion funnel. Here’s the shared resources. It’s open source. It’s on GitHub. Anybody can use it. You don’t have to be an INN member. So those investments are happening in the back office…and it’s just a question of propagating them.
Murray: Technology is a big issue that we haven’t talked about much. I know we’ll probably talk about it some when we get to the engagement point. Our research shows one of the most fascinating things going on in the new space these days is the fact that people are actually reading more than they used to because they have these smartphones in their pocket and they walk around and can dip in on a regular basis. And yet I think the Knight study showed there were only three of the 18 that had actually developed mobile apps, and it’s a huge expense. I spent the last five/six years of my life running digital operations for The Wall Street Journal. The amount of money we were spending on technology was frightening because you’re developing for the iPhone, you’re developing for the Android, you’re developing for the tablets and that’s for the external-facing technology. There’s also the internal technology. Brian. What can we do to help you?
Wheeler: Give me some programmers. On the technology front, on my wish list is mobile applications. We’ve started building our database and geo-tagging all of our content, but the dream of developing a mobile app that will present that attractively is a reach for us. With four staff focused on getting the product out, we can’t do that kind of development on our own or even manage a team or pay for a team that could do it. Now, we jumped on the Armstrong CMS platform and we’re probably one of the smaller shops that’s using Armstrong. But this idea of having a toolkit and blending in CRM so that we can keep track of subscribers and donors in a sophisticated system – we’re thrilled with Armstrong, but I want to be able to take it to the next level, follow what the Texas Tribute is doing, but I need somebody that can come in to our shop or be available to us and make that happen. I’ve got a local technology team working with the Armstrong platform, but we don’t have time to go back and sort of figure out: Are we branching too far away in our customizations? What has Texas Tribune done that we can just grab and implement? That takes a warm body with a lot of smarts figuring out those platforms.
Murray: Did you want to say something? Did you want to add to that, Susan?
Mernit: Yes. I want to say, though, that I think it’s really important that people use technology smartly and use open source. So we moved from Drupal to WordPress, one of the most supported platforms. We didn’t choose the smaller platform for fewer developers. We migrated to WordPress and our mobile traffic went up from 2% to 12% because we are now an attractive reading experience on a smartphone, even without a mobile app. We saw this incredible surge. So I think it’s really a mistake to think that you have to go from a [unintelligible] face that’s not mobile-friendly to an app. We would love to have an app. I would love to have an iPad tablet [app], but I also think- I think what’s lacking is education, because we found a great solution at very low cost.
Murray: Elspeth then Elizabeth then Steve.
Revere: Yes. The comment about needing programmers really resonated with me because I’m hearing it from everybody in every field that I work in. The nonprofit sector just is not competitive for programmers. That said, I think what you just said about using technology smartly is important, and I would hope that not every group would need their own programmer, but – so that’s really kind of a challenge, I think, for my colleagues and me in the foundation world to figure out, how we can get some of these needs met. Because I do hear it everywhere I go.
Murray: Chris, did you want to-?
Daggett: In New Jersey, one of the other things we’re doing right now is we’re – many of you have probably heard of a tiny little station, a station called WFMU. It is a hole-in-the wall station with a worldwide following. It’s pretty amazing, the work that they’ve done, but we’ve just funded them to build something called, for lack of a better name right now, the Audience Engine, which we anticipate they’ll be able to complete in a relatively short period of time, as in 12 months or so, and it’s going [unintelligible] to publish everywhere. We have a lot of high hopes that we can help you out enormously in that open source. We’re going to make it available everywhere, and then we will – they will probably develop a for-profit side, which is the training side, where they can come and actually help you put that in place, but it’s been tried for many years apparently…
Murray: Steve, [unintelligible], are you going to go out of New Jersey?
Daggett: Absolutely. We’ll take it anywhere, I think, in the end, because the whole idea here is to enable the entire ecosystem, not just in New Jersey, but elsewhere.
Murray: Okay. Elizabeth?
E. Green: So I believe in collaboration; that’s why we’re a merger and that’s why we’re starting two new bureaus in the next three months, but it’s challenging. So I think it has to be – I agree with what people have said – it has to be sort of domain specific. So we all cover education, we’re all local, we’re doing similar things, but there are challenges in doing it that we have to attend to, like if we’re going to have a distribution manager, an engagement manager working in four different communities all across the country, what does that look like? What services can be offered and what can’t? So I think we’re going to learn a lot from that. My second point is that I also believe in collaboration by looking outside, like, “So what can we do?” solutions. I think we can look outside of our sector. That’s where I found – I mean, I found a lot of good ideas in, but also out. So in my case, just being [an] education reporter and studying how do charter schools go from tiny mom & pops to, “Oh, we need to create charter management or organizations networked or backend support?” So I look a lot at them for guidance for our industry and I think there’s [a] way to coordinate that knowledge-sharing and then two, I also look to the technology companies. In New York City, our new distribution and engagement person and I went to a tech start up, Birchbox, which you wouldn’t think has anything to do with journalism. They sell beauty products, but we met for an hour with their social media team and learned more than we could’ve learned, I think, in a year, talking to each other about social media here in this room. So they have to invest in that. They’re way ahead of us and it just occurred to me while I was sitting in that conference room if I could bring five of my colleagues into this meeting, doesn’t Birchbox get a corporate responsibility pat on the back? Don’t we all learn a ton? So unfortunately, I pitched it to Birchbox, [where] my friend is an early co-founder and they said no, but I think the foundation’s [crosstalk].
Beatty: Yes. Following up on what Joel and Andy were talking about, we all have very different missions, and it’s best that we find like-minded people to carry these out. I agree with that, but I also think there’s an incredible benefit to being in rooms with people that have widely different missions. At CJET last year we were put in a room with for-profit and nonprofit people and I thought, “Aww man, I’m going to have to sit here and listen to them talk about equity investments,” and things like that from the for-profit side. [Laughter] I found that it was fascinating to have some of them in the for-profit world look at us and say, “You have that much money to do what?” and you’re squandering it. It was a slap in the face for me, and a good one. So even though we should get together with likeminded people, I think we shouldn’t discount the fact that the people running for-profit or micro sites shouldn’t be attractive to people running statewide organizations and Dylan’s group, LION, is a daily reminder of that on Facebook, with the posts that I see from various organizations. So we shouldn’t discount different people.
Murray: So we have three very sage observers of the newspaper industry who’ve been sitting quietly for the last hour and I think we should now make them talk and then we’ll take our break. Rem, Jane, Rick, in that order.
Rem Rieder, USA Today:
First of all, I’m really glad to be here. [Unintelligible] people doing this stuff because I found the whole rise of nonprofits to be one of the most interesting stories in the field in recent years. The other thing that really struck me – I wrote a couple of columns about hyper-local [news outlets] and some of these sites represented in the room – is that for them to keep going – and many of their great examples like Dylan – [unintelligible] I guess really depends on one person or two people working around the clock, seven days a week. I guess my hope would be, I guess, as this all evolves, that we see ways to keep that kind of passion and mission, but do it in a way that’s kind of more sustainable both for the organization and the people. That maybe it’s – you can actually live a little bit of a life, because to me – I love the work that the ProPublicas of the world are doing but to me – it’s the best tradition of journalism, the Andy Halls of the world. People [who] just care so much about it are willing to dedicate their lives to it. I’d love to see that kind of evolution with support of foundations, shared services, a lot of what we’re talking about – to take it to the next step.
Murray: So Andy Hall is now a type? [Laughter] Jane.
Jane McDonnell, Online News Association:
It kind of feels to me like what I’m hearing in this room is dissolution of everything that we’re seeing here [in] the Online News Association, and especially over the past five years. Things are moving so quickly and I actually have sympathy for everyone who’s trying to keep up with it and trying to help. I’ll tell you that the evolution as we’ve seen it, which will be no surprise to anyone, is all of our programming at our conference which is probably where we have the biggest bulk attendance and the biggest eyes and ears has just evolved – not just evolved, but just stampeded into business needs and demands and technology needs and demands. The journalism is of course important, and it’s the end game, but the big thing right now is: How do I sustain? Once I figure that out, how do I keep moving at the speed that we need to move to get news out and move it out accurately? So it seems to me – I’ve been hearing a lot of great suggestions around the table and I know we’re going to be talking about some of those later on, but it does seem to me that the only way that we’re going to address all this is that we need to move as quickly as we possibly can. I think part of our role as journalists has always been to sit back and analyze, and what I’ve really felt like in the last five years especially is that the faster we can move to help folks, the better off we’re all going to be.
Murray: This conversation sounds very similar to what you hear from the for-profits?
Murray: I see. Absolutely. Rick. You get the final word before we go off to caffeine so make the most of it.
Thank you so much. So I’ll try to be quick. I have three thoughts. Having been to a lot of these kinds of meetings to sort of [see a] rising level of confidence and knowledge of good practice that’s in this room – I think that’s a big change from three or four years ago where people in this business felt like kind of lonesome pioneers. I would say from a newspaper business angle, in [the] newspaper business, which I have as my particular focus, it’s been alluded to, but I think a new factor is how eager newspapers are for collaboration and for good material. That’s at least – I think that’s a win-win and it’s certainly [a] way to get some distribution for…
Murray: How many of those organizations are represented around the table syndicate? Well, I was going to ask that question next. How many of you make money from syndication?
Edmonds: You can do it either way. You can do it and make some money or you can do it basically to extend the reach of the good work you do.
Murray: Okay. Audiences, what we’re going to come back to – we’re going to leave business behind having solved all of those issues…
Edmonds: One more if I could…
Murray: Oh yes, go ahead.
Edmonds: I was interested in reading the Knight report that this particular report was not going to address quantity and quality said – or tried to measure that and that’s understandable, but I still think that’s a huge lingering issue here; is exactly how much important resources gone away from newspapers, magazines, and to some extent television? Are there ways to go from 170 organizations to – somebody said 1,500? That might be a next step.
Murray: It is. I mean, if you look at the gap, Amy, what’s the drop off over the last three decades?
Murray: No, I’m talking about the drop off in newsroom employment.
Murray: So, the most optimistic – this gets to your point, I think, earlier – the most optimistic assessment of what this nonprofit sector can do is a tiny, tiny, tiny piece of [those] lost resources. I think that’s part of the point here you’re making. Ten-minute break, then we’ll come back and we’ll get to great journalism and audience engagement.
Part II: Innovations in Engaging the Audience
Alan Murray, Pew Research Center:
This is the good part. We’re going to talk about the journalism. We’re going to talk about how to build audiences. I don’t think any of you really got in this for the money and if you did get in for the money, you made a big, big mistake. So let’s talk about the journalism, how to engage audiences, how to grow audiences. We talked some in the last session about syndication and I know there are some people who want to talk about syndication but we’re at this interesting moment in terms of technology where you have to decide how much of your resources are going to be spent trying to go through – trying to partner up or go through traditional media outlets, how much of it would be taking advantage of the ability that digital gives you to go directly to your consumers and I think we should try and get into that and talk about it a little bit, but let’s stick with syndication first for just a minute because, Brian, I know you had something you wanted to say about it.
Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow:
Thank you. We partner with a lot of the for-profit media which makes us a little unusual among our peers but they all came to us. For four years, we were covering local government and then the local media started knocking on our doors looking for content. I picked up the newspaper this morning. Charlottesville Tomorrow has two stories on the front page and I got in the car, turned on the radio. My senior reporter is on a one-hour program talking about the stories he’s written. So we’re partnering with radio, we’re partnering with the [alt] weekly, the daily and one of the things in our syndication is that I don’t want any money for it. We give this content to them because I want to be an equal partner with those media properties. I don’t want them to tell me which stories we can or shouldn’t be writing and instead, what I want is in-kind support for marketing, for printing. They print our voter guides. We do a 16-to-20-page voter guide on just the board of supervisors, on just city council and so they print that for us. The in-kind support we get adds up to more than we would ever get if they paid us per story.
Murray: Brian, those stories that are in the paper this morning, are those exclusively to the paper?
Wheeler: Yes. Well, they’re exclusive to them as a media partner. They’re on our website…
Murray: They are on your website? So you can distribute them digitally any way you want to?
Murray: So it’s not holding back your digital development?
Wheeler: No. In fact, we feed directly to the newspaper’s website via RSS, all the headlines that are partner stories so the headline goes on their site automatically. The link back is to us so all the eyeballs come to our website if you’re looking at it online but we get in the print product which gets us to thousands more people than whatever come to our website.
Jeff Jarvis, Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism (CUNY):
[I totally respect] [Unintelligible] what [Molly] mentioned before with the Repost [data] that we’ve had. I’ve been thinking for years about the notion of an embeddable article. [I thought] ‘why isn’t [an] article embeddable like a YouTube video?’ And I was about to go build it at CUNY [City University of New York], when Debbie Galant found it. And it exists – really well-thought-through – at Repost. So your article becomes embeddable like a video. It travels with your brand, your revenue, your analytics and your links. You keep the SEO. They’ve found that 98% of the audience is incremental from originator to embedder and the click-through rate – here’s the beautiful part – the click-through rate from a complete article which you think would be zero because they’ve read it all, the opposite, it’s 5% to 7% because they’re saying, “Oh, I like this.” They’re highly qualified clicks-through.
Murray: Hey, wait, I want to make sure I understand it. Why would the local newspaper in Charlottesville put an embeddable article on its site if the revenue is [crosstalk]…
Jarvis: Funny you should ask.
Murray: …if the revenue is going to Brian?
Jarvis: Funny you should ask. Well, because they get more [unintelligible]. So the way this works in New Jersey is with [unintelligible] Commons, it became the basis of a content and audience sharing network.
Murray: And revenue sharing?
Jarvis: Not yet. That’s next I hope – what I [unintelligible] agreed into the calculation. So what happens is NJ Spotlight is doing great work. NJ.com said, “We love your work. We would like to bring more audience to it.” So they got Spotlight to join Repost. Spotlight’s stuff is now embeddable. NJ.com brings tons of audience when they promote it. Yes, right now, it’s Spotlight’s ad there but what I know is going to happen is the publisher of NJ.com is going to come along and say, “You know what? I can improve the revenue for both of you guys. Why don’t you let me just do that and we’ll share revenue then?” That’s the next stage and NJ becomes for-profit. Spotlight’s in there…
[Male]: Is it metered? If it’s metered, they get money out of it that way.
Jarvis: Right now, it’s just your ad appears there. Obviously, that’s – a Baristanet post that appears in the South Jersey blog 200 miles away – that’s not such a viable ad if it’s for a hairdresser so that’s where an ad network needs to come in but it’s a first important step that you have all these big and small profit or not-for-profit media entities now sharing content, sharing audience. It’s also the basis then for doing collaborative projects and more. It’s a kumbaya moment.
Murray: Anybody else have interesting syndication content sharing arrangement? So that’s Susan?
Susan Mernit, Oakland Local:
So we both distribute our content and we take other people’s content. So like Brian, we have an active partnership with KQED [a public television station in San Francisco], New America Media, SFGate. We push our content out on Yahoo! News where we have a regional and local partnership but we’ve also started taking content from other players so we now publish content from the Oakland Post which is a historically black paper and they run our stories both in paper and on their website and from a small group called the East Bay Citizen. It’s like a local Politico. So we’re very interested in how we can be a platform to both push content to other people and to manage some of our editorial costs by working with reputable third parties.
Rose Hoban, North Carolina Health News:
I just wanted to think that the common thread that Brian [Wheeler] and – I’m sorry, I missed your name – had – from New Jersey down there had was that the time lag. So Brian was going for four years and then started to get the sharing with the other people. He’s talking about you have years and then the next step, the next step. I just wanted to point that out yet again that you have to build the brand, your brand and then other people start to come. No? Well…
Jarvis: No. In fact, a new site can now get audience faster from being embedded on the big sites and so this becomes the basis of why I think that in New Jersey, the ecosystem is set up with what we – when we modeled the ecosystem at CUNY, we saw four legs to the stool what I’ll call [unclear] businesses, new news organizations, networks and public media and we have all four of those in New Jersey now. So now what is a fertile ground so that news sites that start can come in will be better supported because they can more quickly get audience and get exposure and join in revenue-sharing opportunities and those kinds of things so before you started alone on your own, yes, it was a longer build. Now, we want this collaborative infrastructure there in the ecosystem and really treat it like that. New Jersey was one of the most screwed up media networks in the country – media markets in the country. We think there’s an opportunity to make New Jersey a model but the model through this ecosystem view.
Murray: Anybody taking an opposite approach saying, “We don’t want to do sponsorships that we have the tools we need to build the audience ourselves”? Everybody wants [to spot Steve]? No? Everybody wants syndication arrangements? Still the best way to get on it so can we talk about social media a little bit?
Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network:
Before we do, just one thing on syndication which is within INN [Investigative News Network], I would say that Brian respectfully, I don’t know in INN but it doesn’t work within outside media commercial partner. What has changed is I’ve heard that the amount of effort it takes to collect the pennies that you get back may not be worth it anymore and so people who used to charge for syndication content are now going with Creative Commons licenses that are trying to build more symbiotic relationships that aren’t as [transactional].
Murray: Because any revenue they can squeeze out of these nonprofit/for-profits is hardly worth it.
Davis: They were spending more time trying to collect the money than they were actually getting it. I’m not suggesting that’s good. I’m just saying that a lot of people have given up on trying to monetize syndication at least on a traditional one-to-one or one-to-many type project.
Murray: Dick Tofel, how much money do you make off of syndication?
Dick Tofel, ProPublica:
Not an enormous amount. I mean mostly we do use a Creative Commons license. We’re in a little bit of a different spot. The most successful thing that we syndicate in the censure – you’re probably talking about it, Alan – are our national data projects where we then encourage other people to pick them up in a way that they can localize them. So for instance, the prescribing – the prescription drug payments to physicians and then the Medicare system payments out for drugs themselves, both of those have been picked up by lots of news organizations and those applications, we have a couple of arrangements to give people a first look for which they pay but I would say that everybody I think – I certainly know we are – is trying to do two things at once, right? You’re trying to get the most exposure for and the most impact for the work you’re doing today and you’re trying to build a platform for tomorrow. I don’t see how you give up on either of those objectives.
Murray: The platform to tomorrow being direct digital…
Tofel: Yes, that ideally, you want to get into a position where you can publish just yourself with as much impact as possible in part because the number of outlets that are available to republish anything are dramatically [shrinking]. If I can just take one minute, there was an AP [Associated Press] story in which I was particularly interested a couple of weeks ago for reasons I won’t get into but it was a fairly well-done AP story, 1,800 words and AP moved it on a Thursday. In the old days, that would have ended up as we know in hundreds of newspapers around America and on zillions of newspaper websites because they’ve already paid for it. One print newspaper in America picked up this story and three on their website. Why?
Murray: Why is that? Yes.
Tofel: Yes. The in-print part is easy. There’s no newshole. There’s just no newshole and newspaper after newspaper after newspaper has got 500-word limits. That restricts the number of partners for all of us at all times. The websites I think are simply flying at 100 miles an hour and they don’t have the staff. So here’s this perfectly good thing and they could’ve cut and pasted it. It’s not…
[Male]: They don’t have the staff to [unintelligible].
Tofel: Right. Well, I mean if you don’t have the staff to cut and paste an 1800-word feature you already paid for…
Murray: But that’s just one more reason why the content sharing syndication model is eventually going to break down, right?
Tofel: I have always felt that old-fashioned syndication, low-branding commoditized stuff, it was a crummy business 50 years ago. This is why The [Wall Street] Journal got into what we called branded syndication which is very different. Branded syndication I think can work. Unbranded syndication is a new lousy business.
Joel Kramer, MinnPost:
Yes. In Minnesota, we have not had success of getting the large media players in town interested in running our stuff. We’ve offered it to them. They don’t want it. We have some small trade deals like with business publication that we think is good. We give them some content, they give us but we’ve run into the problem Dick described that the big ones don’t really seem to want to invest in using other people’s content or maybe they just don’t like us because we’re competitors but what I want to do with I could was go to the social media question you were [crosstalk].
Murray: Yes, please because that’s where I want to go too. I mean why…
Kramer: So just a few things about our social media work which I think people might find interesting. When we launched our site six years ago, our main way of reaching out to people and telling them what we have done was in email. We had 6,000 people who signed up to get a daily email and they would then link – in the email, we would send links to all the stories we publish the last 24 hours and much of our traffic came from people linking from that email. Six years later, we still have 6,000 people on that email even though our business has otherwise like quadrupled and what has happened instead is now most of the traffic comes from Facebook and Twitter so we get…
Murray: When you say “most,” percentage of traffic from social media?
Kramer: No, it’s not [crosstalk] traffic. Most of the traffic that comes from people seeing our headlines elsewhere, okay? There’s still a lot…
Murray: What percentage of the total traffic is social media?
Kramer: Well, in the past month, for example, 10% of all our traffic, all our pages came from Facebook. So we now have 30,000 Twitter followers, about 10,000 likes on Facebook, and here is an interesting side effect, when we launched, the median age of our reader was 50 and now the median age of our reader is about 41 or 42.
Murray: You happy about that?
Kramer: Oh, yes
Kramer: Because if your readers are all old, you don’t have a long-term business [model].
Murray: You have something against old people?
Kramer: Right. So [laughter] – I’m one of them. So what happens is that social media is introducing our content to a younger audience and there is a prejudice out there in the news business that say younger people are not interested in the kind of stuff we do because our stuff is policy. Policy now it’s about taxes and education and things like that and there’s a perception that younger people are not as interested in that but we find a very large group…
Murray: How high can that go? You’re talking about 10% of your traffic now. How high do you – what’s the upside on social media, anybody? Margaret, did you want to talk about that?
Margaret Wolf Freivogel, St. Louis Beacon:
No, I think [unintelligible].
Murray: Okay. We’ll come back to you. Yes, Ruth?
Ruth McCambridge, Nonprofit News Quarterly:
I think this is interesting. I think we don’t syndicate to other news sites. What we do is we try to push out into communities of people that we think would be interested in a particular story and then what we do as very possible, there are people who address [full] audiences that we can push a particular story out that we think in a tailored way really addresses some of their interests and they will – basically, they’ll link in such a way that it pushes people back to us. We then have the chance of that person in building our numbers but…
Murray: You’re talking about a vertical approach?
[Female]: [Unintelligible] example.
Murray: She’s – yes.
McCambridge: Okay. I can give you an example. If we do an article on – say, we do an article on the diversity of boards in the nonprofit sector, that clearly can go out to any number of audiences that aren’t news sites. It can go out to an organization called Board Source. It can go out through an organization – it can go out through GuideStar. Those people all have huge lists that respond to them. So we don’t syndicate through another news source but we syndicate through communities of interest and that actually has done more to build our community of readers than anything else that we’ve done because that will bring in literally hundreds, thousands of people on a particular story.
Murray: There are lots of examples of that and social media reinforces that but I’m curious in this room, how many people feel or are working within a defined community of interest? It’s really a vertical approach and how many of you are working more horizontally? How many of you are verticals? I know we got – and the rest of you are trying to reach a broader audience?
[Female]: It’s a little bit of both.
McCambridge: Yes. If I could jump in here, we started this discussion about audience really talking about syndication, about how to reach more people but I think when you begin to – there are a couple of points that are emerging that are really important when you’re thinking about this, all numbers aren’t equal. You can have a little bit of contact with a lot of people. You can have very deep contact with people that is equally important and it’s two – maybe two different kinds of outreach to build both those things and also increasingly, I think you just have to reach people where they are so the idea that they’re going to come to your website eventually to get everything, I just don’t see that happening.
Murray: So you do that through social media?
McCambridge: Through social media, through networks, through email, through in-person events, through occasional printed publications, through whatever it is that gets to the right group of people that really cares about that and we’re thinking about this challenge in two ways now. One is how do we develop deeper engagement with the people who already know us and love us and also how do we break out of that circle and have much broader impact than we currently have.
[Female]: I just want to say one other thing. In the morning, what we do when we review our stories is to think about what communities will be interested in what stories and ask them to tweet them out. That way, it’s not us doing the social media necessarily but it’s in relationship with other people creating a blitz.
Emily Ramshaw, Texas Tribune:
I want to say that I feel like when we think about expanding audience, for us, I feel like the trend really is about moving into insiders even more than we have been and we are pretty insider shop already but we’re getting ready to launch a user-generated content site that’s sort of an opinion site that’s really going to – I’m describing it as like the sexy younger sister of the Texas Tribune. We are moving into…
Ramshaw: It works. We’re moving into the newsletter business for the people who really want to be let in on the secret, for those of you who sort of watched the Wendy Davis filibuster this summer where we had a zillion people watching our livestream. We’re getting ready to launch and kick start our campaign. That’s going to be all around buying the equipment to be able to livestream from anywhere at any time basically satellite backpacks. So I think for us to drive…
Ramshaw: Yes, exactly. For us to drive around – when we talk about engaging your audience and who that audience is, I think for us and what I’ve heard of from a lot of you is that it’s finding those super users and really moving into that realm.
Murray: So it’s less about expanding users and more about mining the ones – I mean one of the interesting things and Mayur, you should probably speak to this but I felt one of the most interesting things about your research was how little time people were spending on these sites on average. It was two minutes.
Mayur Patel, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
Yes, on average, between one and two minutes. Yes. I mean in general, time on site is decreasing across the board for the news industry but this was much lower. The other thing that was important to keep in mind, it wasn’t just time on site but it was also heavy bounce rates and so it was just the combination of the two that was worth flagging.
Murray: Did you want to add to that, John?
John Thornton, Texas Tribune:
Really just more a question. I was listening to – I was envious that Joel knew his median age and that he knows what it is now because I don’t think we do but one of the things that I grandiosely said when we were raising money for Texas Tribune was that if we could prove and this – I want to ask Eric a question, if we could prove that we were engaging a younger audience in news, public affairs, civic engagement, that we’d have foundation money until the cows came home and which I don’t think is true but a lot of things that [I’ve said] weren’t. Right and so I guess, Eric, it does seem though in terms of being able to measure something that that’s pretty damn good that if you can say that you really, really definitively are engaging the 19-year-old young woman I remember reading The Wall Street [Journal] or New York Times article and she said if something important is happening, it’s going to find me and I thought if we can get her, we’ll be able to convince foundations that we’ve done something. Is that still legit or was it ever legit?
Eric Newton John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
Well, you’re on the way there. I mean step one – yes, I’m on, right? Thank you, Jeff. This is my technology consultant, Jeff Jarvis. [Laughter]
Jarvis: I’ll take away your [lifeline] right now.
Newton: Yes. I mean step one is knowing who’s using this stuff. I mean step two though is knowing in what ways they’re engaging with it and step three is knowing what happens because of it. So whatever you know, the foundation will ask you the next question so that’s just [crosstalk].
Thornton: I’ve noticed. Yes.
Newton: It’s just what we do.
Murray: Although it’s hopeless. That’s hopeless.
Newton: Because it’s a train down to impact but seriously, it’s – I mean to the extent that you understand what’s going on – Michael can tell you a story of something called PolicyMic which because of their behavior analytics and how they are able to handle things is they’ve gone from zero to millions of uniques almost – I mean [unintelligible] year or something. Eighteen months because they’re able to – they figured out the idea of when you say something and so they’re able to use behavior analytics and social media and figure out when the story should be put out there and they’ve got millennials talking about all kinds of serious social issues that you – that some people said they never talk about.
Murray: So it’s not just metrics that convince a bunch of stingy foundations to turn over more money, it’s metrics to actually learn and improve your audience rate but before we leave the stingy foundations, Dan, the [laughter]…
Murray: [Laughter] I mean the engaged foundation has taken metrics to a religion. Is John right? If somebody could come to you and say, “We got it and here are the numbers that show it,” would that free up more money for you?
Dan Green, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
It depends. I mean it depends on obviously – it isn’t just like did we get more 19-year-olds? I mean I think part of it is and part of what we’ve been talking about doing and we’ve been partnering with the Knight Foundation on is exactly what Eric said which is at least getting – it isn’t just metrics for the sake of the foundation and the funder. Hopefully, these are metrics and this is information that the organization can use to actually better reach the audiences that they’re trying to reach and to better actually have impact on the audiences that they want to have impact on and so that’s – what we’ve realized fairly quickly is we can try to force grantees to measure but the reality is that we have to actually convince them that this is – getting this information is valuable to their own business.
Murray: I was talking to somebody the other day about this very issue and they said to me that if the metrics go to a funder, they will immediately be corrupted and that the only value of the metrics are the ones that you never show to the funder but you use internally for improving…
[Male]: Really now?
Murray: I think…
Jarvis: Metrics are a huge issue because we’re all operating on old mass media metrics, right? We’re all operating on bulk rather than relationships with individuals and impact and so one thing that we can do as a group I think, especially this group of sites is to start to look at those new metrics, A, B – foundations could support it but C, universities could start to study this stuff and can start to try to find – and I was just with my research people yesterday trying to come up with a project that attack just this. We failed at how to figure out how to do it but I want to start at the outcomes. What is it in for Knight – because [unintelligible] work on this? What does an informed individual and community need? What do they tell us they need? What do we think they need, both of those, that how are we backing, how do we think we’re going to accomplish that and then we turn back around and say, “Did we accomplish that?” We have to get that kind of ethic going in what we do and look at the outcomes in people’s lives that matter to them. The example I was giving, Hurricane Sandy – and Chris and I were neighbors – what we wanted to know was which streets around us have power, which didn’t have – which were blocked, which Starbucks nearby had the nearest power or Wi-Fi. That was tangible information I needed. Here’s how to get it to us, not from reporters but from my fellow citizens. You create a platform enabling them to do that and then you measure whether we found that stuff out. That’s the news feedback loop that we need in this world so the metrics of saying we should not mimic old media metrics. This group of old groups has no reason to do that. What we should be – and nor should we look at just engagement as time spent. That’s a very good indicator of a problem but let’s look at the deeper problem and a deeper solution.
Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism:
Yes. We’re teaching audience the engagement as part of the core reporting class for all MS students at Columba this year which it may be the number of schools who are doing that. I’m not sure they are but just to – okay, Jeff’s point and he knows this because he’s on our advisory board and this is an area of study and research for us as well. I do think that just on the practical level that one of the key things you – that if people here aren’t doing it and I’m sure most of you are – I teach metrics as part of actually a reporter’s tool set. This isn’t just about measuring your output once it’s done but also being very alive to what’s happening to your work when it’s produced, the moment it’s published how [we’ll let you know]. Every story basically has half an hour to fly or die. What can you do if it doesn’t? How do you provide those bits of the long tail that sort of fell in the cracks? It’s just good hygiene for every organization now.
Murray: I’m really tempted to call on Steve here because he was talking earlier about how reporters are allergic to business. They’re also allergic to metrics and they’re also allergic to terms like audience engagement.
Bell: But they’re not allergic to feedback on their work.
Murray: No. That’s true.
Bell: That’s the key thing. They’re not allergic to that but also to Jeff’s point and also slightly concerned what Myer said, a very high bounce rate, very low time on site, we don’t really know what that means. That could be a fantastically good metric if what you’re trying to do is get a whole ton of new users in. It may be a terrible metric if you’re – we have to have a grown-up conversation about this and we have to acknowledge that all of the metrics have been set by a commercial world and I don’t – I mean I disagree with Jeff. I don’t think we are working off of old mass metrics but we’re all working off faulty web metrics because we haven’t owned that conversation. Nothing corrupts – the reason the television industry can charge the highest premiums for the least accountable metric system is because there is a consistent and agreed dialogue around what those things mean. What we have done is we’ve undermined – if you’re like, oh, there has been an undermining of what web metrics really mean. This is a legacy news for – by saying, well, they don’t – we have to be able to [agree standards], stick to them and then be – as it was sort of own them because I think one of the things is at least these things get kicked around in public and that devalues it, devalues its foundation. It devalues it to advertisers and they’re just looking for an opportunity to discount what they give you.
Murray: Steve Waldman?
Steve Waldman, Daily Bridge Media:
I agree with the idea that there’s an inherent value and metrics as a way of doing your job better but on some level, to do metrics well and to figure out audience engagement, well, you have to figure out your business model first or at least [unintelligible]. To go back to the old media, part of why page views became a very common way of measuring things is it was the closest proxy to ad impressions or an easy proxy for ad impressions so we all counted page views. In the case of nonprofits where you have all these different business models, what your business model is may point you to a different way of measuring and even pushing engagement. It may be that if your business model is a membership model where you need 5,000 people giving $20 then you’re going to push towards – or you may want to push towards content that gets you 5,000 people who spent a lot of time and you want smaller audience that is more engaged. If you’re going more towards a sponsorship model that’s a little more like advertising, you might push towards…
Murray: Yes, but now, we’re getting back to the – so now, we’re working forward from the business model and rather than sort of looking at – what are you really trying to accomplish here? What is [crosstalk]?
Waldman: Well, I guess what I’m saying, I’m being the stodgy business guy in saying you have – your engagement discussion can’t be in a vacuum outside of the discussion of what your best business model is and there’s not a right way or a wrong way but they should be aligned. Your approach to engagement should be aligned with your approach to your business model.
Murray: Steve then Kevin.
Beatty: Yes. I don’t have a problem keeping my reporters away from their metrics. It’s more like Steve said, are they looking at the ones that matter? I don’t need my reporter saying, “Well, I got four people in New Zealand who read my story and I can see that through this.” It’s to keep them from going down that rabbit hole and figuring out, “Well, yes but how many people in New Orleans read it and had an impact and what’s the target audience for what we wrote?”
Murray: So how do you measure impact because page uses a lousy measure of impact? We know that.
Beatty: Well, unfortunately, it’s not empirical. Did that city council member wave our story in front of a city official at the next meeting and say what are you doing about this? That’s how I measure our impact is how often is our work cited, not just how often does it get picked up by our publication partners which is always nice but how often does somebody see it and do something about it? We’ve identified a problem and someone’s taken some action whether that someone is a community organization that wants results or it’s a public official that’s made something happen.
Davis: Yes. I mean before I got into the journalism game, I worked for movie studios and worked with them and there have always been buy side metrics, sell side metrics and internal metrics and you use them for different things. One of the things that I recently wrote in the piece in NetNewsCheck is we spend a lot of time writing grants and reports and things like that so this is a small thing but if people would start to agree on some standards, we wouldn’t have to redo them every single time. We’d write a grant request and report, right? If we consider foundations to be on the buy side, it would be a huge asset to have at least start to approximate. My second point is this which is…
Murray: To have the foundations agree on a set of…
Murray: …measures that they want to monitor?
Davis: And allow them to be imperfect. I don’t know of a single perfect metric on any of the media on the buy side or the sell side. They’re all approximations. I mean Emily’s point was well-taken. So box office is a lousy indicator of how successful a film is so is Arbitron ratings but the fact is that it’s – there’s a reason why these markets move the way they do and that’s a real opportunity there that can really cut out a lot of inefficiency.
Murray: Joel and then Vincent.
Kramer: Yes. I want to echo that. I think on the subject of measuring what we do, obviously, the Holy Grail is real impact on people and society. I happen to personally not be interested in spending an enormous amount of time on trying to measure that in a quantitative way because I personally think it’s so difficult. The second level though is there are metrics out there – and let’s start with Google Analytics which everybody uses – but which are – and this is echoing Kevin’s point. They’re terribly misused and they’re used differently by everybody and it would be of great value if we could agree on which metrics in the world of say Google Analytics, which web metrics actually matter and why and let me just give one example, okay? Uniques which keep getting talked about in my opinion in our business – I can’t speak for others are worth zero. They have no relationship to the success of our business. The issue of bounce rate, bounce rate is high because of the number of people who come to your site who aren’t interested in your site so they are functionable as uniques. If you run a website and you run content on it, you are going to get an enormous number of visitors mainly through search and secondarily through various other kinds of linking who are not interested in your site. They will visit for 10 seconds and then after they’re gone, they won’t remember if you asked them where they were and they come from all over the world and maybe even all over the nation but if you’re a local site, they are absolutely irrelevant to your business unless you’re selling national advertising at $0.80 cost per thousand which I recommend you not do, okay? So what we need at least within that web world is some agreement for the foundations, for donors which are the measures that can count. I can tell you for us, we’re interested in people who come back more than once a month. That may not sound like a lot, twice a month, but the reason we think it’s so important is the behavior of people who come twice a month is radically different from the behavior of people who come once a month.
Murray: Do you have that metric?
Kramer: Yes, of course. These things are not – well, they’re not perfect. I agree with Kevin. Google Analytics is not perfect. We also calibrate from Quantcast and other places but my point is getting a shared understanding that people who come once a month are irrelevant to your business unless you’re selling national advertising would be a big step forward because then we would focus on what matters. So for example, we’ve also learned for someone to become a donor, we need them to come to the site at least four times a month and then their percentage chance of becoming a donor starts to move into the non-infinitesimal and these are the things – now, this will not get at the question of whether the story is making a difference in people’s lives. That is a much more complicated question but I think we could at least take on the more modest question of agreeing on what web metrics really matter particularly to a local news [crosstalk].
Murray: Just before we leave this, what in your experience is the correlation between uniques and the number of people who come to your site once a month or the number of people who come to your site more than four times?
Kramer: Okay. We have an average of 400,000 unique visitors a month. My competitors in town use that number when they sell advertising and I refuse to use it even if it costs me money. I just think it’s a ludicrous thing. So the number we use is the number of people who come twice a month. We use Quantcast as our method of estimating. We have 75,000 people who come to the site twice a month so that means 325,000 unique visitors. By the way, that’s not unique people because if you go to the site from your office and then you go from your home and then you go [unintelligible] your phone, that’s three unique. Well, do people know that? Most people don’t know that. That’s not three people.
Murray: No but if you do that then you’ve come more than twice a month so you [laughter].
Kramer: Well, that’s the problem. That’s why you can’t use Google to measure this because they don’t – they only answer it by them operating – whatever they call it the operating system or – so what I’d say matters is people who come back more than once and also local people if you’re in the local business and then – and also time on site only among those people who come back.
Murray: Who come back?
Vincent Stehle, Media Impact Funders:
Journalists might be allergic to metrics but actually, you could take something for your allergies. I take – I’m allergic to my cats so I take a pill every day and I think we all have to deal with this reality [unintelligible].
Tom Glaisyer, Democracy Fund:
We are desperately interested in impact and metrics. It’s a key part of the way we do grant making and the – I just want to draw everyone’s attention to a project called the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas. They have done a number of experiments and will continue to be doing a number of experiments around if you change your site in this way or that way, what is the – both the economic impact, if you say time on site or number of uniques but also the democratic impact and they’ve explored to date changing a like button to a respect button which increases to attitudinal engagement with the story. They’ve explored using different types of polls and journalistic engagement in comment sections. They are continuing to do this for at least next two years and are looking for partners i.e. this is an opportunity for free insight. Natalia Stroud of the Engaging News Project, if you give me your card at the end of this, I will pass [unintelligible] at you.
Murray: So can we go back a little bit to social media because if the goal is to get people who are repeat visitors to your site, is social media a good way to do that? Who’s having success using social media to build audience of the sort Joel’s talking about? Steve?
Waldman: Yes. In the draft Knight report, we came out closer to the top end on – we’ve got about 25% of our traffic come from Facebook and Twitter and we’re aggressive about every story that we post, sending it out on the different day parts to make sure it goes out once in the morning, afternoon, nighttime. We rotate whose duty it is to tweet out the stories on the weekend when people have a little bit more free time to read the longer stories that we do and we found our weekend traffic went up remarkably just on retweeting our stories, maybe picking up on a quote or doing something other than the headline but we’ve…
Murray: Does that build committed audience?
Waldman: I think it does.
Murray: The [stories] that Joel is talking about? You think it does?
Waldman: I think we have a lot of repeat visitors who come for that. I will definitely seize on the idea that uniques aren’t that big a deal. I like that idea.
Elizabeth Green, Education News Network:
Sorry, I was going to comment on measurement rather than social media. Is that permissible?
Murray: You’re permitted. Yes.
E. Green: Okay. So we created an internal dashboard just for reporters so not business focused impact but just for editorial impact and we created that organically out of our own desire to know what we had done in the past week, month, year but an interesting development as we’ve been building this, it’s taken us longer than we thought partially because there is a gap emerging between the goals that we were setting internally for our reporters and the goals that we were imagining that maybe funders would like to know about and then goals that are more of external and to do with sort of imaginary ideas about what impact means and so I think that’s just an interesting anecdote to throw out is that trying to fill that gap. So I think a lot of the difference has to do with adding in a look at the practices that are most likely to lead to results because the acknowledgment that – we just – we will never really be able to measure this perfectly. I think we have to start there and then say okay, well, if we can look at what are the highly likely practices that will highly likely lead to the following outputs or outcomes then those are the things that newsrooms can actually restructure themselves around and reporters can really think about much more than something very abstract like a year out if that makes sense.
Murray: Dan, did you want to say something or do you just have your…
D. Green: Yes. Well, one was as long as Emily and others have made a point about the measurement work. So one is to at least note – for those of you who don’t know that Knight and Gates have funded the Annenberg School at USC to launch the Media Impact Project with a specific goal of better defining engagement, ways of measuring engagement and better understanding when does that engagement actually lead to the kind of outcomes that funders talk about which is raising awareness off and building knowledge, measuring attitudes, perceptions and even behavior change. So really getting a better understanding of when does engagement as you define them and we had an initial meeting even that The New York Times came to and NPR and The Guardian and participant and they even already started to come up with five buckets of engagement and so hopefully, that will all – as we start talking about it, just keep an eye out for that because I think that will be helpful in the end because really, a lot of this has to do with what funders really care about as an overgeneralization is back to what even what Elspeth said is the outcomes that we’re talking about and how do we get a better understanding of how do we get to those outcomes. I mean to some extent, take Steve – Steve, your point about the business model but the business model also as it relates to what are the goals or the outcomes that you’re trying to get to and my hope is – our hope is that funders get good at articulating that. The media organization can agree that those are mutually-desired outcomes that we should figure out how to measure. The last thing I’d say is that part of the Media Impact Project work too is also building a technical assistance team that would then work with media organizations to specifically help them on their own metrics as a separate little bucket of money and support that would allow organizations to get teams of people to come in and do a look at what are the metrics that you’re currently getting depending on the outcomes. Are you taking in the right information or are you – as a point made as uniques actually make sense for what your goals are. Probably not and so trying to figure out ways of what we want to do is better support media organizations to be able to do it because it’s not helpful to say you need metrics but we all don’t help you figure out what are the right ones to get.
Tofel: We started I thought earlier by saying that we thought that our businesses were very different from each other and I think there’s a lot of truth to that, different markets, different missions, different kinds of journalism and then somehow, we got around to what I thought was almost an emerging consensus that we wanted the foundations to tell us what the agreed upon set of metrics are. These two things do not connect, right? So I just want to spot that for people. I thought what Steve Waldman said about business models is critical. You need to know what yours is. There is not one. You need to know what yours is and then the last point is I believe – the more I think about this, the more strongly I believe that transparency is critical to this. Accountability is very difficult in the nonprofit world. When we talk about running these places as businesses – for-profit business, it’s easy. There is top-line growth at the beginning and bottom-line growth ever after and there you are. Nonprofit is much more difficult and one of the things is I think it’s difficult for us and I think transparency, if you are willing to decide what you think is important and then to tell the whole world quite publicly and on a regular schedule, how you’re doing on it, by the nature – by human nature, you will drive to that. Now, you may have the wrong direction. Maybe you’re not going to the right place then you’re going to lose but if you are going to the right place and you are posting how far and how fast you’re getting there, it’s going to help a lot.
Murray: Yes. Chuck Lewis, you’ve been sitting there very quietly and taking great notes and I can see it’s sort of all coming together on the page and I think the time has come for you to share the synthesis with us.
Chuck Lewis, Investigative Reporting Workshop:
It’s a pretty tall order there. Well, I have just follow off what I’ve just heard here. I do think and have recently written and we’ve talked to a few folks here, I do think that the grantees, these various organizations do need to have a sense of shared values about the so-called metrics. I do think there is a sense initially that most of the interest in this was frankly from the foundations and there is reminiscence here of what happened to other forms of commercial media with metrics over the last 10 or 20 years with story counts and headcounts and folks heading for the door. So I think INN, the Investigative News Network with – it’s an 86-member organization as an example and we’ve talked should take – there’s a couple of groups inside INN, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that Andy runs and I think Investigate West, I think there’s been some conversations of actually finding some sort of common ground to what the journalists in the trenches think is relevant. That doesn’t mean that all the things that we’re hearing are not valuable and very extremely useful including some of the studies that are going on now. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have those studies but I think this is a new space. Yes, let’s just be really blunt. Local scientists studied participation for half a century and it’s gotten so much better and I think there needs to be a little bit of humility here about this. I’m an old-fashioned guy. To some extent, I think it would be wonderful the more if foundations could also occasionally support the journalism.
Lewis: The actual content. I happen to think that’s really important. We just lost 30% of our reporters in America since 2000 and it’s wonderful that we’re getting better and better with all the metrics but it would be great if – reporting takes time and it costs money. The commercial realm in many ways can’t do it anymore and in many ways was not doing that much investigative reporting even in the last 10 or 20 years as must be direct. So I think we have an issue here also qualitatively about the best reporting that’s out there and I think foundations do support other sectors and they’ve been doing it for a century and I think they’re going to continue and I think it’s necessary to continue this kind of work. I’ve watched all the accountability. I’ve been in this space 24 years and the most interest in metrics has been the last couple of years.
Murray: No. It is interesting. We did start out the session talking about great journalism and somehow we drifted into metrics which as you point was not – for most journalists, a completely foreign topic. I mean I spent decades of my career in news meetings with editors who said, “Our readers like this and our readers don’t like that and our readers want more of this and they want less of that” and the truth is they didn’t have a clue. They had nothing, didn’t have a shred of evidence what our readers liked and didn’t like. It was just a good thing to say in news meetings. It is a pretty dramatic change but it’s also a reality, right? I mean that’s what the funders are looking for and the metrics do exist so it’s hard to ignore them. Mark, we haven’t heard from you.
Mark Horvit, Investigative Reporters and Editors:
You have not. I’m sorry. I’ve been listening. So just one thing to bring in to all this, all the talks so far about metrics has been about eyeballs and what social media is bringing to the site but I think a key way you have to measure a lot of this for what we’re doing isn’t just about who looks at your site but what happens because of what you do, right? That’s something that we have been having to work out a lot at IRE [Investigative Reporters and Editors] is how do we measure the impact of what we’re doing. It’s in what happens because with the content based on the training that we do. So I think as you’re looking at how you measure the impact of what you’re doing, it can’t simply be how many eyeballs are coming to the site because that doesn’t necessarily mean – we all know that. You can put stuff on your site that will generate a lot of traffic. It doesn’t mean anything. Even unique, non-unique, it doesn’t make any difference so I think part of what has to go into the mix is looking for ways to measure what actual impact the work has for those people who read it or for the sort of and how it plays into the mission of what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. We’re not really talking too much about content-content today but I think it’s also worth thinking about that there are ways especially for – we deal mostly with the investigative side of this but there are – but the way you do your work, the way you do your projects or the way you do your investigative work can also lead directly to the number of – the kind of traffic that you get, the kind of impact that you can have. I mean there’s ways you can structure the actual journalism that can change significantly the kinds of impact you have and the ways that you can measure that and so I think that that’s just at some point probably part of the discussion too.
Murray: Can you just go a little further with that? Specifically, what sorts of things are you talking about?
Horvit: Well, just one simple example is that there are different ways to do – and so we work with for-profit legacy, whatever you want to call it, media and nonprofit and everyone’s dealing with a lot of the same issues but – so the traditional method of doing an investigative project is to work, work, work, work, work, gestate, gestate, gestate, give birth to this big thing when it comes out and then go take a nap, right? So that’s fine but what you’re seeing more and more of and partly out of the same necessity is the rolling investigation kind of thing, the idea that you break this into – the work is not less important and you don’t do less – the impact isn’t different in the end but you’re breaking this into pieces as you go along and there’s a sustained constant hit. We’re talking about doing the…
Murray: You build audience by doing that?
Horvit: Yes. Right, exactly. I mean it’s anybody – and just from forgetting about the business part of it, when we go and talk about this and we’re talking news organizations, anybody can withstand one hit if you’ve done something wrong. If there’s one big hit and it disappears, the odds of having any impact are very slim but if you beat that drum continually and if it comes out in pieces and you keep it going for a while, you see all sorts of impact happen that might not have happened otherwise but that can also play into the way you bring traffic to your site, into the way people respond to it and the kind of audience that you build. So I just think that the way you think about doing your content has to factor into this whole discussion, not simply how you get word out about it once you’ve done it.
Murray: Anybody want to respond to that – to that point in particular, the campaign, the repeated hit? Emily?
Bell: No, I mean that’s absolutely said much better than I could say but that’s why we teach in reporting classes because it is absolutely tied to the format, the way that you report something out and that is tied to the platforms and social behavior of people in the wider world. It is tied to the fact that continual partial attention is now completely different for publishers than the packaged media world where you’d send something out. You knew that you had a very predictable reception and response to it and when you look at the work that ProPublica does in this – it’s had a great story out today but just as important is the format of that and that, we were talking about earlier and saying this is about process. It’s about understanding process.
Murray: It’s [around] once and done.
Bell: No, it’s not once and done. It’s about understanding the entire lifecycle of that and understanding how the reporter and the editing and the presentation fits into that but where that gets us too on impact metrics, I’m not quite sure. I think it gets us to a point where we – where actually it’s a professional craft. We understand just much more about what we’re trying to do, who’s reading us, how we can make them understand or read a bit more in an intelligent way rather than the way that’s necessarily dictated by different business model which is the pure advertising or subscription business model and that’s the big thing for nonprofits which is the measurement of impact is inevitably going to be different.
Wheeler: The metric I’m worried about right now is our fall fund drive, right? So we’re going to be doing fundraising and going back to social media, we didn’t experiment. We matched home addresses to as many of our Facebook followers as possible and we sent them a targeted annual fund drive campaign letter with an envelope and very few of those came back. So what we found was that that audience, while its 14% of the traffic driver to our site, it’s not a rich resource as far as our fund drive. So the people that send us money are those that get our weekly emails so that list is about 11,000.
Murray: Where do they come from?
Wheeler: Well, we recruit them over time, build up that list but those are people getting a weekly dose and they’re clicking through and those are our annual givers. They’re giving under $1,000 but that is a much better channel for us to try to raise money.
Freivogel: We tried a quick experiment a couple of weeks ago in different kinds of coverage related to a veto session of the legislature and instead of just doing the standard preview story, we broke it down in a lot of different ways, cast of characters, Veto Session 101, scorecard, live tweets, stream and some of these we thought might be more sharable in Facebook and some of them work better on Twitter and some of them work better on our website and so we’ve – then we can go back and look at who – looked at what but all in all like created a lot more involvement than simply the standard coverage.
Murray: Okay. So let me turn the conversation here just a little bit because we’re going to run out of time very quickly and this is a pretty unique opportunity to have all these people sitting in one room for even a brief period of time and I don’t know when we’re going to get you all together again. So I’d like us to walk out of here with some suggestions on what can come of this that will actually help to get us to the goal we’re talking about. I mean what are the next steps that can grow out of this discussion we’ve been having for the last couple of hours. The tags, the nametags all go down. Susan, do you have an idea? Yes?
Mernit: I find this discussion very energizing and I appreciate the chance to hear from so many groups that are so different than Oakland Local in terms of their size or their location. I think that actually putting some resources toward a smaller group that was a best practices task force, that would be fantastic because there are many people here like Brian who I’ve talked with quite a bit and some people, I never talk with and some of the ideas here like John Thornton’s equity, I would love to actually pursue that in my own area. So I think looking at maybe doing a follow-up survey, looking at what some of the greatest needs are, I mean how could you fuel some small working groups that could do some very specific toolkits just the way Knight has funded community toolkits that people actually use. Maybe some of us could help create toolkits that this field could use.
Murray: Is that a shared view? I mean in general, among the practitioners here, let’s leave the funders out for a second and the thought leaders out for a second and we’ll leave Jeff out for a second. Among the practitioners, do you have a lack of contact with each other, a lack of ability to understand best practices or do you feel like you’re getting all that you need? Steve?
Waldman: Since Kevin pointed at me, I’ll turn this up. No, not to throw roses where they aren’t deserved because they are deserved, INN and Dylan’s group, LION [Local Independent Online News Publishers], has helped us all get together a little bit more and as I mentioned earlier, just the little daily this, this and that and knowing that somebody else is going through the same thing. Even if I don’t comment on their thread, I know that when it comes up the third time, I can call those couple of people up and I can call Andy when I’ve got a problem that’s similar to what he went through. I hope I don’t go through the same problem that Andy went through but I don’t find that I’m not as isolated as I felt three years ago when this started off.
Murray: Anything additional you feel you need? I mean what’s your view of what should come out of this discussion today?
Waldman: Well, one very specific thing that we’ve touched on a few different places and like John, I’m also envious of Joel, is that the demographic research of our own audience. I have a chance I think with a partnership with a local university to do a little bit more audience study but I hope they have the expertise at it because I certainly don’t, but to be able to say to both funders and advertisers and just to their fellow readers, here’s what our readership looks like.
Davis: I spend my whole day thinking about this question, right? I mean that’s what I do for a living and I don’t have all the answers but I can tell you what I’m being told by members. I mean at first, it was, “Let’s experiment. Let’s keep the investigative journalism going. Let’s see what’s working out there” but the fact is people need more working capital. They need money that’s tied to business operations, separate from money that’s tied to content. There’s still a great need to fund content because content does cost and we have to continue to prove our value. I venture to say and I’ve said this many times, if I were to ask – stop 100 people in the street here in Washington, D.C. and ask them whether they know what OpenSecrets is or CPI [Center for Public Integrity] or ProPublica, if one out of 100 said they would know what they are, I’d be surprised. So these are not brands yet. We’re creating content. We’re doing good stuff. I also think that we need time. We need time. If there’s one conclusion I took away from Michelle and the Knight report is that we are seeing – we saw – I heard [unintelligible] mentioned optimism. We’re seeing some great things happen. We’re seeing some moving forward. People are optimistic. Our fail rate is less than in the VC world and with most startups but the push-me, pull-you between foundations willing to move on and how long it’s taking for us to actually find our way is not a small thing. Getting people together, sharing best practices, doing training, we’re doing that. It’s Knight, it’s INN, it’s LION. It’s all of these things but…
Murray: You’re really asking for patience?
Davis: I’m asking for patience but also let’s – for example, I think it’s exciting the grant that Texas Tribune and John Thornton is doing and some of that stuff too. We need to reward best practices but we have to also recognize that not everything fits and we have to take a look at it that way so yes.
Waldman: I want to sort of [zoom up] back up to a bigger perspective which is to say the amount of revenue that the groups in this study totaled up at was I think what, $35 million and from 2006 to 2009, the editorial spending in newsrooms dropped $1.6 billion.3 So we’re just – this is the teeniest little drop in the bucket in terms of the large-scale problem and I want to point it back to issues with the philanthropic world which is it always strikes me when we go to conferences like this and we see what the grant-makers are, they by and large are grant-makers whose fortunes were from robber barons of the 19th century, Standard Oil and Sun Oil and…
Murray: Or robber barons of the 20th century. [Laughter]
Waldman: I think Pew and Knight are – I sing Pew and Knight’s praises all the time and not only because my last two paychecks came from Pew and Knight.
Murray: Pew and Knight, yes. [Laughter]
Waldman: That’s great but when you think about where the support – putting Gates aside for a second – where the support comes from, Carnegie, Ford, Knight, Pew and yet when you look at the winners of the new economy, Apple, Google, Verizon, AT&T, which in – just taking those four companies and again, I’ll occupy Pew on you but the amount of money that – or profit that those four made in a quarter is $24 billion. Just one quarter – not revenue but profit from those four companies and all this by way of saying that if the winners of the new economy put even a tiny bit of their wealth into this as an issue, we – this whole space would be transformed. With all of this – all of the conversation that we’ve been having about how to get more bang for the buck and how to be more effective is absolutely true. You have to do that but there’s a bigger…
Murray: It’s worth pointing out the winners of the new economy were winners of the new economy on other people’s content.
Waldman: Well, that’s – okay, once again. Putting aside whether or not anything – it doesn’t matter whether good things or bad things were done, it’s just positive that it was all good stuff but it still matters that there are huge entities that are on the sideline for the most part in this debate who have the ability to have a massive impact.
Murray: It’s an interesting point. Chris, you wanted to say something about that?
Chris Daggett, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation:
I do. So I mean speaking from a funder standpoint, in my view, a couple of things, one, we don’t say it enough. I think this is all about democracy for me and we – it’s the undercurrent here but it’s all about getting people engaged and in my mind among other things from a funder perspective picking up on what you said, Steve, we as funders that are in media now or supporting media need to help you get other funders involved and we need to do it by going to other foundations. We need to go – Knight has done an incredibly good job of doing a lot of your funding through community foundations but what hasn’t happened is the up sell. The people that are in community foundations, the donors or the people that are in donor-directed funds don’t get – we need to mine them and get them interested other than just having community foundation use some its discretionary money which unfortunately is usually just a pittance relative to the overall community foundation and we need to mine those databases, if you will, and start to really aggressively pursue them. I see that as a – if I told you how much time I spend personally in trying to build collaboratives of funders in not just media but in education, other areas that we fund, I spend an enormous amount of my time because I deeply believe that if we have an interest and you have something in your guidelines that says you’re interested too, I’m going to go talk to you because I want to understand what in that area you’re interested and can we collaborate because if we pool our money in a similar fashion you’re talking about, we can have a much greater impact. So I think that – if the thing that we’ve been starting to talk a little bit about this among funders, we’ve got to do that and we’ve got to do it sooner rather than later and we’ve got to do it – casting as wide a net as possible.
Murray: So we’re going to do Margaret, Brian, Elizabeth, Vincent, and then Michael’s going to wrap us up.
Freivogel: So what the people in this room collectively can do is articulate in a way that is visible nationally why this movement of news organizations is important. Why it’s important to the future of communities that it’s necessary for various kinds of funders to step up and support it and what’s the realistic expectation at this point for the experiments and organizations that are existing and all that done in a very visible way would be very helpful to those of us on the ground going out and talking to people.
Wheeler: I worked at the W. Alton Jones Foundation for seven years so I have a little bit of foundation experience and I think we were known as a collaborator with other funders, Dodge Foundation, Surdna, et cetera. Now, in this business running on nonprofit, what I want from funders is somebody to say, “We want to be your partner.” I want them to come to us and say, “How can we help you innovate and take that initiative?” That would help us a lot. We don’t have the time to think about all of our needs and then put them into a proposal that would pass muster with a lot of the funders but we’re doing good work. We’re survivors. We’re persistent. I mean this group right here I’ve gotten to know really well and we’re doing amazing work in our communities but to get a nudge in the right direction to take our tools and our platforms and our training and our expertise, we could be partners with you but some of the initiative I think needs to come from the funders back down to us.
E. Green: That’s an awesome point. I just want to repeat something I said earlier which is connect us to each other but also connect us to outside resources. So that trip that I made to Birchbox, tech companies like that that have already invested in the growth edges that we’re working on, I would rather learn from them and to have all of us to do it together at the same time.
Stehle: There [is] $30 million worth of activity represented in this room. This is a full room but this is not the only room and these are not the only media actors and I think as important as the work is here, there’s a lot of nonprofit news happening beyond this cohort at a – this – the INN was created at a Pocantico retreat several years back. Just before that, there was another Pocantico retreat that created the media consortium and I can only see one person that’s in the Venn diagram that connects those two groups. That’s another important cohort of news actors and I would just say that the encouraging thing is that in a recent set of three years, 2009 to 2011, there were close to $3 billion worth of foundation grants. It’s not $24 billion worth of profits but it is foundation grants registered in billions toward a wide variety of media activities. So the problem is that it’s so fragmentary, you don’t know each other and philanthropy tends to be very localized, very parochial. It’s happening in regions and places that aren’t necessarily represented in this room and we can do more to eliminate that.
Murray: Michael, you get the final word.
Michael Maness, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:
I have more than one. Is that all right?
Murray: You get the final words.
Maness: Well, first of all, thanks everyone for a great afternoon I think. So I’ll talk a little bit about things that I overheard but also add some two cents in. I think it’s very telling that we charged into this space with our hearts and not our minds and I mean that that we got really excited and we saw a problem. We saw a need and so we moved into it. Out of that, there’s a cascade of issues that have flown because of the fact that we did it in that way. What’s interesting to me right now is these content companies that are doing very well. BuzzFeed is doing very well on content. Upworthy is doing incredibly well, fastest growing media company we’ve seen on content. PolicyMic is doing well with millennials on politics and public policy content. So it’s not necessary that content doesn’t work but what’s interesting when I often talk to people around BuzzFeed, they say, “Oh, that’s all the silly cat stuff,” which is interesting because they said that about Twitter and [unintelligible]. So those are things to learn from and recognize. So when you think about that, I would say your journalism skills and background are incredibly invaluable. Your operational management experience is worthless and what I mean by that is the things that you need to carry forward that are important that are invaluable are those journalism things, but you really need to get away from what the look and feel was of how you came out of the news organization beforehand. When you see that, the question I would ask for you is how many versions of the thing that you’re doing have you gone through? I don’t mean iterations. I mean versions. That’s important because if you look at companies that do well, they’ll go through 10 to 12 versions in three to four months. That might look radically different than the thing that they’ve done and what happens to us I think is we’re taking news paradigms that we grew up with and applying this. It’s really important to break the cycle of getting addicted to the continuous now which is we’ve got this thing up, we’re feeding the beast, I can’t do anything else. There’s a lot of ‘fail whales’ in Twitter history and I don’t believe it hurt their IPO. So there’s moments that what you have to do is be ruthlessly relentless about thinking what am I doing, what can I stop, where can I get space to do things, because it is true that size, there are some issues around scale but I think it’s important to remember that size doesn’t matter for momentum. I always remember when I met the guys from Airbnb and there were two guys from RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] and two other people and Airbnb was doing really well with four people. It’s what they spend their time on and what they stop doing that allowed them to do that. So I think that’s really important to think about– how many versions have you done. And I just came from the largest nonprofit news organization this morning, which is NPR, and I don’t know if you’ve seen NPR’s latest redesign of their site. I won’t go into specific numbers but let me just tell you that they got rid of the newspaper format side and went mobile. They built thinking at mobile and their traffic is up tremendously and without a blip. They actually are having higher traffic than they do when even big news stories happen. It’s a responsive site but it’s a blog-like site and so really, they’ve changed their version and they went through lots of versions to get there so really think about how you can do that. There’s a lot of talk around – that’s been really important to capture around innovation happening at intersections. We know that’s true. Explore other things. Engineer collisions with each other and that’s something that Knight can do a better job of and that we’ll try to do a better job around that. Also I think the real aspect is if I could launch a t-shirt brand right now, we’d call it “Kill My Website,” which is what I’m saying is we’re really moving past that. You really have to start thinking about what does it feel like to be distributed brand that people run into, not how can I get people on my site. Social media is its own environment. It rises and falls in different ways to the point. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get revenue off of that but what it does mean is there’s going to be a moment where people can do micro-payments and things like that in social media and you’re going to have a whole other way to do that and this is why the experimentation becomes incredibly important and really getting around a future proofing of what you’re doing. One of the things I just read about was around Steve Jobs. He always targeted the next thing three years from what was going on right now which is that moment that you got something and you’re like, “Holy cow, there’s not a disk drive in this anymore.” It was super-frustrating but his point was you’re not going to need a disk drive in three years and that’s what kept it – they’re always looking at that, kept them future proofed and I think you have to get into this. The speed of disruption that’s going on all the time is so high that there’s not just – if we don’t do that and we’re not – if we don’t keep up with that then the content that we’re producing is incredibly valuable, incredibly rich content won’t matter because there won’t be anyone around to look at it or get impacted by it. I think a couple of big pieces that have come from, this is really beginning to understand to know thy audience. That’s one thing that we hear. That’s one of the reasons we started with Annenberg School. We really have to figure out – and I think very accurately staying away from necessarily metrics and all those things but understanding your audience in whatever way you can in assessing that is super important. Metrics is one way of doing it. Going out and talking to people and showing them a version of something new that you’re trying is also a way of talking to your audience. One of my favorite moments – and NPR is doing a very good job around project management around this and iteration – what they’re doing is when they have people come in for tours, they take them aside for 20 minutes and show them something they’re working on and get their opinion of it. Now, that’s a big brand and they ask people to do that but the point is they saw an opportunity during a tour to get involved with their audience and to understand better what is happening and that I think you have to be really focused on. I think there is – and to the point of the big – the last point that Steve was raising around the new robber barons. Bezos buying The [Washington] Post is an interesting moment of that. From what I understand at conversations I had around people with that, he’s buying it like he’s doing a crossword puzzle like, “How do you figure this out?” That’s how he’s approaching it I think because unfortunately $250 million [unintelligible], not unfortunately for him. So there’s something between – and I do think there are differences here with everyone around their content and style of what they do but this notion of there’s a lot more to learn in this media environment around being iterative and moving and experimental and it’s not a side product. What you see over and over again is this content company is doing really well, that’s what they’re really focused on. They do that well first and then they start adding content and BuzzFeed, I don’t know if anyone has seen the memo, it’s out – the internal memo around BuzzFeed of what they want to do and the six-point of BuzzFeed is we’re going to get serious. The point is they’re shifting. They figured out how to get people to pay attention to what they’re doing. They’re going to start moving into more and more serious news issues. So at the end, I think there are differences between us but one thing that I think is lock solid in it is that those things being iterative and experimental are key structures that we’re just not seeing and that we need to see. So to that end, we are – Knight is working on a proposal for our board that’s going to be basically an RFP [request for proposal]-type of thing for specific projects and goals from a nonprofit news set and we’ll be moving forward to that so it’ll be something that you apply for specific innovations and structurally, we don’t have it all done yet and it’s going in front to our December board. So if you contact us early, please don’t. We’ll remember because we’re not done setting it up yet but we’re going to be involved with you on figuring out what the needs are and putting a fairly sizeable amount of money together so you can apply for specific things, for example, like making a mobile responsive website, things like that.
[Male]: [Unintelligible] fairly large…
Maness: Large money, yes. That has to go through our board approval process because of the size of it but I’m just saying you know that what I’m hearing and we’ve heard that before and we’re trying to figure out a way to do that to reward that iterative experimental spirit and to help you future proof but you have to have a plan to do that. You have to have some idea of demonstrating it and showing that it is a thing One of the things you point out with the Texas Tribune all the time is that if you break down what their organization in terms of payroll looks like, it’s thirds and thirds and thirds. It’s a third business step, a third tech, a third content and that’s the kind of thing you really need to think about and what can you stop if you don’t feel like you can – the beast that you created doesn’t necessarily have to be fed every day. You can also raise another beast so if you really think about what those things are. A super big thank you to Pew for all the hard work and for Alan, amazing job. So thank you very much for hosting and being master of ceremonies. Again, we really appreciate that. You’ll have more communications from us around this process in the next 60 to 90 days but we really appreciate coming this afternoon and safe travels everyone. Thank you.
- Note: The Pew Research report found that 21% of nonprofit news outlets focused on investigative reporting. ↩
- Note: The precise numbers found in the report were 24 outlets (76%-100%); 23 outlets (26%-75%); and 13 outlets (0%-25%). Thirty-three did not respond to the question. ↩
- Note: The Knight Foundation draft study reported that the 18 profiled organizations raised $35.6 million in 2012. ↩