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Nonprofit News Outlets Fill Gaps Left By Traditional Media

by Alex Gauthier, published

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The Pew Research Center released a study Monday examining the current landscape of nonprofit news organizations. The study polled 172 digital nonprofits that were started between 1987 and 2012, analyzing everything from staffing requirements to funding models.

Of the 172 organizations, 93 were part of the study. A 2011 survey examined the ideological leanings of such groups, finding liberal and conservative coverage corresponding with the American Independent Network and affiliates, respectively.

The poll outlined several criteria for inclusion. To qualify as a nonprofit news outlet, according to the Pew study, the organization needs to have 501(c) tax recognition status, or be affiliated with or sponsored by one. Additionally, only digital outlets were considered for inclusion.

A common mission among nonprofit outlets is to provide additional journalistic support in areas where traditional media was failing, or had rolled back on due to budget cuts. Likewise, the industry has grown considerably over the last 5 years, more than half of the organizations polled were launched after 2008.

Although the nonprofit news sector has grown, establishing a sustainable business model persists as an industry concern. Many relied on large one-time grant money to get started, but have difficulty renewing funding sources in subsequent years,. thereby requiring staff to dedicate more time to business-related tasks, instead of focusing on the journalism side.

"While 80% of the outlets say that business, advertising and marketing work consumes some staff time, nearly one-third of them said that kind of work consumed less than 10% of their staff time, and more than half said that business-side tasks accounted for between 10% and 24% of staff hours."

independent-newsDedicating resources to business development is a difficult task considering most respondents (78%) maintained five or less full-time, paid staffers.

Only one third of nonprofit news outlets were fully independent, meaning they were 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. These groups were more financially sound overall, raising more money compared to non-(c)(3)s and maintaining more diverse revenue streams:

Most are not trying to replicate all the editorial functions of mainstream media, but instead work in specialized journalism niches. About one-fifth (21%) focus on producing investigative reporting, which can look at a range of topics, while another 17% concentrate specifically on government. Other areas of focus include public and foreign affairs (13%), the environment (4%), health (3%) and arts and culture (3%). And the geographic orientation tends to be either state (38%) or metro level (29%).

Overall, respondents were optimistic about the future of nonprofit journalism. At least 81 percent were confident or somewhat confident they would remain afloat for the next five years.

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