How Do We Engage Readers’ Wallets to Support Sustainable Journalism

Lillian Mongeau (session host)
Lisa Loving
Bill Densmore
Samantha McCann
Joy Mayer
Todd Milbourn
Lauren Katz
Ben DeJarnette

The Hechinger Report is currently funded primarily by grants, along with a small endowment and a crowdfunding campaign last year that raised $40k.

Lisa: Signature events are often a good revenue source. The Martin Luther King breakfast in Portland gets 1000 people… signature events are lots of work, but they build over time and raise a lot of money.

Joy: The St. Louis ? organization has done well with events.

Lillian: We’ve talked about events, but it’s tricky with national. Not a clear community that would show up.

Joy: As the public, you’d either pay because your life needs the information, or you believe that the information needs to be told. There are both self-interested contributions and more philanthropic contributions.

Bill: How do you identify the people who have willingness to pay on a mission basis?

Lillian: We’ve mostly used surveys… but this is something we could do better?

Lillian: Teachers don’t tend to have much money, so we’re looking for ways to invite micropayments.

Todd: From a business perspective, it’s helpful to start with the question: What problems are people having? How can we solve a meaningful problem that people are having? Events would solve a community connection and networking problem.

Lisa: It should be relational, not transactional. Solve the problem first and then make the ask.

Samantha: De Correspondent has changed the model… They get story ideas from the community and people pay lots of money.

Bill: Possible to make increased access to the newsroom a perk of membership?

Lillian: It’s possible we could create a section for that on the site. It wouldn’t have to be every story.

Bill: Might need to question the assumption that everything should be free to everybody all the time.

Joy: The pitch to foundations is different than for individuals. You have to use very different language to communicate your value to the public. No foundation-speak!

Lauren: Localizing content and engagement might be a good strategy. People mostly care about what happens to them and their communities. Vox Media has this model for properties like Sports Nation, but doesn’t localize Vox content yet.

Ben: There’s a huge need for explainer journalism at the local level. Not as true nationally. There’s no scarcity, so not opportunity for reader revenue.

Lisa: It helps when people have an emotional connection to your organization. Maybe then they buy T-shirts, attend events, etc.

Samantha: What do people do on the site and what’s their motivation for going? It needs to be personal for them.

Lisa: Would be great to create a fun way for people to tell their stories “I love Hechinger because…” or “I love teachers because…”

Samantha: Reuters created trust principles 10-15 years ago… they recently reaffirmed it. Started to doing an explainer about how journalists created the story.

Lauren: Yeah, there’s a lot of momentum for open reporting. Hearken’s open notebook. It helps people build trust.

Bill: A need for footnoting. Didn’t’ happen in print because of cost of newsprint, but that’s not a problem now.

Lauren: We call it “whole buffaloing” at Vox — using all of the reporting you do and repurposing it in different ways.

Bill: Could Hechinger include marketing language at the bottom of each story? Along with an ask?

Samantha: Compare Hechinger mission statement to De Correspondent. DC is really built around the community and the people. A lot of personality.

Lauren: People want to feel like they’re part of something. And it’s good to demonstrate that through statistics, like DC does.