The ‘New News Ecology’ Needs to Be Nourished With Sustainable Revenue

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jtm-logoS-133x150Conventions can be a good place to take the temperature of the local news industry. For better and worse.

I took a look this week at the online wrap-up of the Journalism That Matters meeting held last week in Denver. The wry title – “Down With Journalism; Long Live Journalism,” spoke to the “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me” mood that looks to have settled on the community news industry. But by the time participants summed up their thoughts after the second and closing day, the mood — at least as it was communicated on the JTM Denver website — was more like a Rocky Mountain high.

The 80 participants were asked to winnow statements that had been brainstormed summing up what they got out of the two days. The “most selected statements” were:

  • Nourishing community engagement is journalism’s bedrock purpose.
  • We are committed to putting engagement at the center of our work.
  • We choose to produce diverse, healthy, fresh news that nurtures community to conversation or action.

Below that trio were these “also selected” statements:

  • We are mapping our news ecosystem
  • A healthy news ecology is engaged and collaborative.
  • Make curiosity endure.
  • Train anyone who will listen.
  • We encourage media practitioners who will engage themselves in all segments of their communities (however defined) in varied ways to strengthen the fabrics of those communities and a democratic society of making informed decisions.
  • As we head home, we are continuing the conversation together on JTM’s new platform by creating opportunities to participate in online live meetings, web forums and a collective question bank to tap into our synergistic energy and shape the future of our news ecology.

The grand, this-is-where-we’re-going commitment was encouraging. But while I finished scrolling down those optimistic declarations, I thought: “Where’s sustainability?”

The meeting agenda didn’t ignore sustainability. Dan Moulthrop, curator of conversations at the Civic Commons, and Josh Wolf, a freelance Oakland, Calif., journalist who was jailed for 226 days in 2006 for refusing to turn over videotapes of a street demonstration in San Francisco, hosted a joint session on “100 Ways to Make Money.” Attendees reported specific examples, including dollar numbers, of “multiple revenue streams,” among them:

  • 100% from individual donors (Russ Baker of
  • 60-70% from earned income from communications services, 30% from grants and donations (Anthony Shawcross of Open Media Foundation)
  • Subscriptions, ads, and now, strategic marketing consulting, including social media, Google Adwords, Facebook ads campaigns,” all of which produce $10 million revenue that pays for a newsroom of 200 journalists (Dan Petty of the Denver Post).
  • Services of advertising clients (Rita Andolsen of WKYC in Cleveland).
  • Events built around health care (MedCity News).
  • Financial support from community coalitions to support coverage of non-hard news subjects like the arts, innovation and economic development (ModelD in Detroit, among others)
  • Combination of member subscriptions, major donors, philanthropy, corporate sponsorships, newsletter subscriptions, earned revenue from New York Times partnership and events which, collectively, produced $900,000 revenue in 2012 (Texas Tribune).
  • Philanthropy (ProPublica).
  • 1,700 members who give monthly, “sales, subscriptions, swag, book publishing” (Yes! Magazine).

Josh Wolf wrote me about his impressions of the two days: “The discussion of sustainability came up in countless … conversations both as part of the conference program and outside of it as well. I think the reason that the most popular statements don’t mention it is because of the process through which they were derived. We were asked to identify a commitment we would make that came out of the conference and for obvious reasons it’s a lot easier to commit to producing healthy journalism than to commit to healthy revenue models.”

Journalism That Matters is a loosely formed group that includes “reporters, bloggers, editors, citizen journalists, publishers, media educators, community activists, tweeters, videographers, social entrepreneurs, photographers, reformers and volunteer journalists from print, broadcast, and online media both mainstream and entrepreneurial. Individually and collectively we are working hard to reinvent ourselves as well as the overall news medium, including investigating new economic models [emphasis mine] to support a healthy, vibrant journalism community.”

New Picture (4)JTM is trying to create what it calls a “new news ecology” — “the information exchange amongst the public, the government and institutions that informs inspires, engages, and activates the community.” (Image at right compares new news ecology to traditional media.)

Local journalism needs this re-invention of what it does and how it relates to a newly empowered public that is outgrowing its old role as a passive consumer of what the news media has traditionally dished out. I hope, though, that JTM members, particularly those who went to Denver, will make “investigating new economic models” an important part of the new news ecology they’re creating.

Without the pursuit of new economic models, this ecology will grow stunted.

Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.