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Making the most of the nonprofit model: The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

Making the most of the nonprofit model: The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

Nonprofit news organisations seem to be gaining traction in the news industry. For anyone interested in the nonprofit model, The Texas Tribune, launched at the end of 2009, is one of the most interesting outlets to follow. Evan Smith, the editor-in-chief of the site, spoke recently to Business Insider about the organisation and its experience with the not-for-profit news model.

The site has seen a healthy flow of visitors since its inception - it exceeded its expectations in six months - and last Wednesday it set a daily record of 60,000 unique visitors. But traffic is one thing; sustainability is a harder nut to crack. The Texas Tribune has raised over $9 million and has also other revenue streams. This gave reason for Smith to believe that the nonprofit model could provide a sustainable future: "I'm ever more confident every single day."

It seems that steady funding is, at least partly, a consequence of quality content: The Texas Tribune has already won journalism awards and has a content partnership with the New York Times.

The Editors Weblog examined earlier the funding of The Texas Tribune. From the beginning, the site acknowledged that it had modelled itself largely after another nonprofit news agency, ProPublica. Richard Tofel, the general manager of ProPublica, shared his views on the nonprofit model and newspaper industry in general in recent interviews with The Browser and ProPublica's podcast.

In his opinion, nonprofits will have an increasing role in the media field, as newspapers' decline appears to be unavoidable. As newspapers' revenues go down, they are forced to make cutbacks, and in-depth investigative journalism is one of the areas that are sure to suffer. Because of its significance to democracy, however, quality journalism should be considered a "public good." Therefore, alternative models for ensuring its funding may be needed, if sustainable investigative journalism becomes impossible in the market.

He said that there are several cultural institutions that are considered as essential but require a mode of funding outside the market, such as art museums and the symphony. This could be the future of long-form journalism also.

Tofel noted that a lot depends on whether people will be willing to pay for online news in the future, which he still sees as possible. In that case, the much-discussed paywall model may become widely implemented, at least in the context of quality journalism. In his regard, a mistake was made 15 years ago when newspapers started put their content on the Internet for free. Now, it may be too late to convince readers that they should pay. But Tofel pointed out that there have been similar situations where it has been possible, such as the rise of cable television. Perhaps readers would be willing to open their wallets for investigative, long-form journalism, he speculated.

If that's the case, then also ProPublica might put their content behind a paywall, and this could become a model for nonprofits in general.

Tofel noted that the demand for long-form journalism seems to be growing. Awards - such as ProPublica's two Pulitzer's - will also surely increase nonprofits' profile.

Sources: Business Insider, ProPublica, The Browser



Teemu Henriksson


2011-05-27 16:56

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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