Ideas and discussion from BxB2010 Summit

California Watch: Where’s the Money?

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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.

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 Lori Bernardino

It’s only natural that California Watch became a non-profit when it was created about a year ago — its parent organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting, which has been around 34 years, is the longest non-profit investigative reporting center in America.

There wasn’t even a debate over profit vs. non-profit, says California Watch editorial director Mark Katches, who previously was an editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t non-profit. We launched with about $3 million in foundation support,” Katches said. “Although there might be some idea we could be a for-profit operation one day, we wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for contributions.”

The California Watch staff has 17 full-time people, all paid, with a few interns.

“We don’t use much volunteer work, it’s almost all paid staff,” Katches said. “I don’t like taking hard work from people and not giving them something back in return.”

Other sources of revenue? California Watch sells its stories to other publications, generating close to $100,000 a year, and the site also accepts advertising. The organization is working to diversify its revenue sources, including a small donor program and corporate sponsorships.

There is a designated person who sells ads and two people who work on raising money full-time. They write grant proposals, network, develop fundraising events and create lists of potential funders.

But these sources won’t come close to covering California Watch’s annual budget of more than $2.5 million, Katches said.

“We don’t expect to be able to sell enough content, ads and corporate sponsorship to get anywhere close to break even in the next three to five years. That’s why we have foundations supporting us,” Katches said.

“We definitely do not want to be as reliant on foundations by the third year,” Katches said. “Even though they love what we’re doing, we don’t expect them to support us with the same level of commitment. They want to see us diversify [our revenues], and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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 their class blog, Local Fourth.


Written by richgor

October 21, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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