Two new reports show positive signs for nonprofit journalism

Illustration used under Creative Commons license, by Mohamed Hassan

A couple of new reports from the world of philanthropically funded journalism show gains in the field of non-profit journalism, and not just in the number of newsrooms.

The INN Index 2019 was released this week by the Institute for Nonprofit news, which has more than 230 member newsrooms. The report says that a new nonprofit newsroom has been started, on average, every month for nearly 12 years. But the more important growth is in the amount of support that newsrooms are getting from individuals, as well as the major foundation grants that helped many of these newsrooms get through toddlerhood.

Graphic courtesy of INN

About 40 percent of nonprofit newsroom funding represented in the survey came from individuals, and foundation giving dipped below 50 percent.

These statistics “point to communities rebuilding and reinventing the journalism they need,” wrote Executive Director Sue Cross. “They point to growing awareness of nonprofit news and to thousands of people willing to act on that awareness and pay for quality journalism out of their own pockets. They point to new ways of providing news sources that people can trust.”

Because this is just the second year that INN has conducted this survey, it cautions against drawing comparisons to the previous year or establishing trendlines.

The report is rich in data, showing the geographic and topic diversity among the sector, as well as a general emphasis on watchdog and investigative reporting. Read or download it here.

The second report is from Media Impact Funders, a collaboration of more than 80 foundations and individuals. It was released a week before the INN Index, and instead leaned on that organization’s inaugural report the year before.

Although the latest INN report showed philanthropic donations dropping below 50 percent of the survey’s aggregate revenue, that doesn’t mean it’s going down. It’s just that reader revenue is on the upswing. The Media Impact Funders report shows that:

  • In 2009, 300 funders gave $69 million to about 300 news organizations.
  • In 2017, 1,200 funders made over $255 million to 925 organizations.

Of the subsets that the report studies, investigative journalism was the big winner.

Graphic courtesy of Media Impact Funders

The report calls particular attention to the reporting collaboratives that have been gaining traction, such as the Colorado Media Project and two projects aimed at covering major watersheds.

And though it notes the ongoing collapse of the legacy news model, the report strikes a hopeful note.

“Philanthropy-supported journalism is not new, but the scale of funding for journalism projects, sustainability, experiments and collaborations is new, and growing. As the
world grapples with increasing quantities of information sources, coupled with misinformation and waning trust in media, funders are stepping up to help news organizations rebuild trust with audiences, report on local communities, and advance important new journalistic collaborations on issues critical to the public interest.”