I-News: Where’s the Money?
One of the major topics at the Sept. 24 Block by Block summit was money: How can a local news site support itself financially? Journalism master’s students from the Medill School at Northwestern University interviewed conference participants about their business and revenue strategies.
Stay tuned for a series of posts in the coming days. We hope these posts will continue conversations that started at Block by Block. If you have ideas that will help these and other online community publishers achieve their goals or questions about how they are doing that, please join the discussion in the comments. Thanks!
By John Yoo
I-News, the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, is a Colorado-based non-profit news provider that delivers in-depth investigative journalism to outlets across the Rocky Mountain region. Led by Laura Frank, a veteran investigative reporter with nearly two decades of experience at daily newspapers, radio and public television, I-News relies almost entirely on donations and grants, but is currently experimenting to develop business model with multiple revenue sources.
Frank said the typical business model that generally works for many news organizations would not be suitable for investigative journalism agencies like I-News because investigative reporting is inherently risky and expensive, and therefore requires an initial injection of funds.
I-News currently operates under grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ethics & Excellence Journalism Foundation. It has also won story-specific grants from the McCormick Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Environmental Journalism.
Frank and her team are currently working toward a “four-legged” business model. This model will ultimately rely on four sources of revenue: grants and donations; subscription services by other media outlets; underwriting; and training for investigative journalists and citizen watchdogs.
The business model is currently at an experimental stage, but Frank said I-News so far has enjoyed success at attracting subscribers and underwriters by promising “more news at a fraction of the cost of hiring one reporter.” As the pitch suggests, at the core of I-News’ revenue generation is the combination of expertise and multimedia skills of veteran investigative reporters willing to produce quality journalism at a reduced cost.
I-News employs three full-time staffs, three interns, and a rotating number of freelancers. All of the employees provide reporting and are paid for their works. The network is mainly led by Frank, the executive director; Burt Hubbard, the editorial director; and Joe Mahoney, the multimedia director. They are supported by interns and freelancers.
As the executive director, Frank is in charge of managing the network’s revenues. In particular, this entails writing applications for grants; meeting with potential sponsors, subscribers and underwriters; and developing business models. She mentioned that I-News also receives some administrative support from Rocky Mountain PBS, a local broadcasting network, especially with accounting.
I-News generated revenues of more than $400,000 in the period from January to June this year, with $300,000 in hand and the other $100,000 yet to be received as grants from the Knight Foundation. Frank said the revenues exceeded the network’s goal of $250,000.
Frank said I-News does not target a specific audience, but given the nature of investigative journalism, it attracts avid news seekers with strong educational backgrounds.
These interviews were conducted as part of a class at the Medill School of Journalism that’s focused on new approaches to hyperlocal publishing. To follow the class’s work, check out the class blog, Local Fourth.