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SESSION: Paying for Investigative Journalism

Anne Galloway, Vermont Digger

  • Fifty-percent grant funding, and the rest they hope will be sustainable sources. They spend about 48% on editorial programs.
  • Key requirement: Enough readers to support advertising. They get 5,000 unique viewers per day and 60,000 per month. Their goal is 10,000 unique viewsers per day.
  • They hired a salesperson, researched the market, surveyed readers non-scientifically, collected testimonials, created a rate sheet with Google analytics, a graphic representation of sponsorhip.

    The firewall question, journalism vs. sponsors

    The firewall is a challenge. They have run some stories about big funders and they aren’t giving now but that is their job.

  • They have a pop-up donate button at the bottom of every story. It works really well. The negotiated trades for sponsorships, trade with a printing company. She suggests negotiate your rent, with contract service providers like bookkeepers. Negotate!
  • Think about marketing: Media sponsorships for events, resale of content, events, speaking engagements.

Ellen Weiss, Center for Public Integrity


“We are all making it up as we go along.”

  • Bulk of money from foundations; but they are changing in two significant ways. One, about 50% of foundation money used to be for general operations. Now they are more targeted on particular areas they are interested in. Don’t let money shape the editorial. Two, foundations are also not giving for so long.
  • There is a lot of competition for money. Eyes widened when the Ford Foundation gave a $1 million grant to the for-profit Los Angeles Times.
  • They have 57 foundations funding the center. Pull together a board that really believes in philanthropy. They are now cultivating individual donors. “It takes five years to convert a listener to a donor. It is not going to happen overnight, you have to see it as building a relationship. You have to be kind and create an affinity with our content.” Same thing with individual donors.
  • Innovate with what you do with your content. Some smaller news organizations may be more willing to pay for your content. They might want a steady-stream of 500-700 words pieces, not giant investigative writeups.
  • Partnerships can be lucrative, but they also take time. She established with key partners a trust they CPI could provide a reliable stream of three or four pieces per year. She was trying to be flexible. The compensation could be metrics, linkbacks or money. What kind of compensation do you want?
  • They did an “incredibly successful” Kickstarter campaign. She learned about building loyalty within particular communities. Trying to build a relationship with people who come to them online. Kickstarter taught how to personalized messages. When in the process do you feel comfortable talking about your story? What are the incentives you can offer, such as a chat with the reporter at the end of the story.
  • Invest in staff to help you do revenue generation. Journalists don’t understand the client relationship. Get someone with biz-dev, marketing of development expertise.
  • Don’t try to do everything all at once.

Robert Rosenthal, Center for Investigative Reporting, Berkeley, Calif.

Four years ago it was unclear CIR was going to survive, when he arrived. The cruicial thing is vision. “They are all involved in the success and the sustaining the organization . . to make an impact and a difference in society . . . that’s what will sustain us.” Because funders want that. In the public-company model it was all about the bottom line. For him, it is about making a difference to society. “For me that’s the big frame.”

  • In the beginning, invested everything in stories. That’s the core of everything. Now they have time and money for development and marketing. “We’re selling the value of our work and the impact of it.”
  • Be nimble about technology and telling stories in new ways. The story is at the center, and every spoke is a different way to tell the story.
  • Encourage ambition and innovation. You have to have a very collaborative environment where you are matching strengths with weaknesses.
  • ”Our goal is not to be a destination website, but to get our stories out through publishers on multiple platforms.” They will partner one-on-one with a media organization, or distribute broadly. They will do a local, California and national version of a story.
  • Push the concept of exclusivity. In one market, 4-6 news outlets will take the story because their audiences are siloed now. They would rather have a story than not have a story.
  • They have funding for a video team. They are producing video for ABC affiliates, public broadcasting, Al Jazerea, Front Line and others. They are going to launch a YouTube channel. “We have no idea if that is going to be successful.”
  • Google is willing to partner with non-profits to push revenue to the non-profits. “There is a time of unique innovation going on. So I’m optimistic, I’m not pessimistic … you have to adapt. You have to be really open to new ways of telling stories, and adapt to the technology.”
  • Failure of corporate media was lack of connection, and a failure of value exchange between the creative and corporate parts of legacy media. “It is mission-driven, passion-driven organizations that are going to succeed.”
  • Board role is really crucial. They needed people who could help raise money; now they need experience in branding and marketing.
  • Fund-raising. “I had to become the performer. I had to go out and raise the money.” It was an asset that he had a track record of managing people at the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere.
  • Dealling with the human dynamics, “You have to be willing to lose your ego. You really have to do that.” Remember that every member of the team is valuable. “If you can remember that, you are going to be successful.”

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

  • “They key to this is thinking about your operation as a small business.” Go into it from the very get go. Concentrate on how to raise money, make money and go from being dependent on funders to raising money on your own.
  • Foundations have said from the very beginning there was no way they could fund this long term.


KEY: Tell the story of why journalism matters

Q: How do you manage the expectations of funders?

Rosenthal: Less complicated than he thought it would be. Engagement and affinition can lead toloyalty that can sustain us. The thing we all need to think about is a marketing campaign, the value of reporting to a democracy. That’s a big educational campaign that can really sustain all of us.

Q: What are the business positions you need and what are your expectations of those people?

Weiss: CPI has 3.5 people in their development office; they are still fairly focused on foundations. They are reoriented that staff to focus more on membership and individuals. They are also working with an outside firm. Moving them from subscribing to an email list to becoming donors.

Advice: Bergantino says consider using outside consultants. Weiss says set realistic goals. Don’t get locked into a big-budget person or consultancy. Have measurable interim goals.

Rosenthal: Get somebody in who knows about development. Cultivate and work with local foundations and philanthropists. The national foundations are paying less attention. But get involved with community foundations where you area.

Q: Portland, Oregon, free-lance journalist and a Boston area TV journalist ask about how to get started from nothing.

Galloway says link up with local philanthropists and rely on them. Weiss says try Kickstarter and build your local network and voice within the community. Be present on the kinds of stories you are following. “There isn’t just one big door called the Washington Post or the New York Times to walk through.” There are no multiple doors.

Q: John Sawyer from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. They have reached out to unconvention donors who believe in issues, rather than in journalism. There is an opportunity for sustained support of you can create high-impact journalism. But there is an obligation on their part, explaining what the lines are. Have to have independents in the journalism, and are nothing going to do reporting on a specific project. “We are about issue awareness.” It’s important to put out an unified line about the importance of independence, to not become adjuncts of the funding organizations.

Q: Jim Haney, Investigative Post in Buffalo, N.Y.