Category Archives: Session Notes

Rockefellerization of the News

Saturday morning, May 16

Host: Martin Reynolds, The VOICES Project, Bay Area News Group

Attending: Michael Stoll, SF Public Press

Reynolds: Will explore the acquisition of profitable legacy media outlets by nonprofits. We’ll focus on newspapers in this instance but there could be other opportunities. Get a sense of the research out there. What might be a property ripe for this? It could be big or small.

Planning by June 15 a convening call of interested participants from Pocantico gathering. In the meantime, we’ll research past proposals for acquisitions by Media Workers Guild and others:

*Speak to key sources who can provide context and director before call:

  • Community foundations
  • Media finance consultants
  • Union people
  • Tax professionals
  • Large donors

This is really about assessing the viability of this approach.

Outcomes: Improve the quality of local news by changing the mission from just making money to enrich for-profit companies … to supporting and sustaining journalism and community information.

Reynolds: In a specific market that I’m very familiar with, the organization has continued to be profitable even though there have been year-over-year declines. My experience has been with a number of these markets, there is still great opportunity there for viable business if you embrace some of what we’re talking about. There is some real potential there.

Michael Stoll: There is the possibility of foundations making program-related investments that would and could be involved in buying a profitable business.   This has been talked about at different properties. It would be good to survey them to find out why they did not work. Smart people thought about making it almost work and it didn’t.

Taking the lead on this will be Martin Reynolds, Senior Editor – Community Engagement, The VOICES Project, Bay Area News Group; and Michael Stoll, Executive Director and Editor, San Francisco Public Press

The Pocantico participants Kevin Davis, formerly of Investigative News Network, Craig Aaron of FreePress and Ricardo Sandoval-Palos of the Fund for Investigative Journalism pledged to help with this. Michelle Garcia, freelance journalist and filmmaker, also agreed to assist where she could in some of the research. There is a nice collective group to explore this.

Who Does What by When?  

Action Steps:

  1. James Head – East Bay Community Foundation – Michael Stoll
  2. Chris McKay – Ownership Associates – Finance consultant for media – Martin Reynolds
  3. Carl Hall – Martin Reynolds
  4. Mark Carter – Get contact from Bain Capital
  5. Clint Riley – Sued the Chronicle twice
    1. Molly de Aguiar, from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation will talk to folks at the Silicon Valley Foundation on our behalf.

Independent Media Acquiring Legacy Outlets

Friday afternoon, May 15

Host: Martin Reynolds, The VOICES Project, Bay Area News Group

Attending: Michael Stoll, SF Public Press

What needs to happen

The idea:

A rich person buys it, takes it from private sector and then turns it over to the public sector. Need to make it appetizing for owners of these assets to give them up.

Why it could work:

  • You’re not cutting to make quarterly profits.
  • Make it easier for the organization to stay afloat.

Need answers to these questions:

What is the value in the legacy media that might be prospects?

Why would a rich individual give someone the money to do this?

  • Need to rally the richest of America, preferably those who have social conscience and perhaps have a stake in the local community.
  • Have to come up with a very appetizing reason for financiers to put up the money.
  • Must make the case that there is value in taking something out of the private sector and putting it into the public sector.

More likely to convince individuals than many foundations that are growing endowments but giving away less and less.

Could we get Congress to pitch into something like this?

Example: CalMatters raised $2.5 million, hired a bunch of reporters who have names and then going to build an audience. It’s starting from scratch and will likely blow through $2.5 million. What if she would have raised $20 million and bought the SacBee?

What are the assets?

  • Archive
  • Circulation list, current and old
  • Advertising base, a terrible website, traffic and brand recognition

Other options besides newspapers:

  • Radio has an even lower price point, and radio often comes with multiple signals and those are very valuable assets. The model could be scaled at the low bandwidth signals and scale that up.
  • Free Speech Television – Started off as a channel satellite companies had to give.
  • What if that were able to be turned into a 24/7 platform.
  • Link TV is a good example of one channel that is doing good work.
  • The C-Span and other are of those, university-based radio and publications.


  • Buying a newspaper would be a much more expensive proposition.
  • So in order to buy distressed newspaper products, someone is going to have to eat the debt.
  • Hybridizing the model, the media company is for-profit but the news gathering is non-profit.

Funding options for exploration:

  • Media Development Investment Fund, NYC
  • Trying to keep media free by giving loans, costs are higher, harder to secure.
  • There are a lot of people who say they want to do social-mission lending.
  • Low cost, low margin assets, have a digital and analog strategy for content and monetization.
  • Start this effort in smaller, underserved markets and prove out the model and scale to larger markets with bigger outlets.

Substantial network of social investors who might be open to supporting such an effort.

Always admonished the players in town, but the some argue that “these are the people we’re writing about.”

Ethical Conclusion:

The funder/buyer would have to pay for a complete transaction and not sit at the board table.

Yeah, but that’s like raising a kid and then allowing him to loud talk you in front of important guests. Is a billionaire really going to be willing to do that?

Important in the approach:

Part of this being successful is to look for journalists or people involved in media business who know particular communities. No swooping in. People need to be from the community, at least on the editorial side. The business side could be different.

In independent media space too many people are expecting people to do jobs they are not equipped to do.

Key Questions/Concluding thoughts:

Would need to know what the cost of acquisition would be and the time it would take. And whether could you put funding together to let it operate independently.

For profit sales, web, marketing team, but a content team working for the non-profit side.

Examine the cost basis of legacy media so we can assess whether this makes sense.

Unlike with new media, there is no way to determine what has history financially.

Philanthropist, we get painted by the source of the money, but that might be a subset of funders that has less potential.

Mary Babcock Reynolds Foundation that is very dedicated to a region, have funded a lot of activists, but be able to address systemic problems of media deserts, might put up some funding, and direct you to other funders.

One thing would need to do is assemble some small team of people, media company valuations to help determine what the opportunities be in these spaces? Are there arbitrage opportunities out there?

Should be convening people who have done significant Media Acquisition work.

Railroads got eminent domain, but what is potential with lobbying to get laws passed to get current owners and holders of troubled assets and in exchange get really sweet tax breaks.

That could open up a whole wave of publicly owned media outlets.

Owned by a b-corp, not profit driven but mission driven.

Indy media is all small ball. Play big ball and still keep our morals. Tends to get really caught up in minutia and need to think big and bold.

After this discovery period, determining the quality of asset, could you think through structure enough to really see if it could work? Some very conscious effort to set up the governance in a way that allows them to be entrepreneurial and serve the community?

Current owners of these assets want out and we want them to do it in a way, what do they need to do to give up that asset? It’s almost like we have to start using techniques that developers use to get what they want.

What constituents are essential for a successful independent journalism organization?

Friday morning, May 15

Host: Richard Logan, The Reva and David Logan Foundation

Robert Rosenthal, Center for Investigative Reporting
Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, Fund for Investigative Journalism
Kevin Davis, KLJD Consulting, formerly with Investigative News Network (INN)
Jay Harris, Public Intelligence, Inc., formerly with Mother Jones
Richard Tofel, ProPublica
Linda Jue, G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism

Note taker: Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, Fund for Investigative Journalism

(Note-taker’s note:  This version is not contemporaneous or a verbatim re-creation of our gathering.  I am hitting the highlights, focusing on the part of the discussion that highlighted the tips start-ups and non-profits need to get off the ground and stay above water.)

Main points: Essential advice on a checklist of things prospective commercial and non-profit independent media operations need before the lights are turned on for the first time.

  • Understand what you DON’T KNOW about your business, and about people, money and time management.
  • Learn it, rent it or hire it to the original team, so the “don’t knows” become a natural part of the original team.
  • Learn how to LEAD. And this means knowing your own limitations and how you can best add the needed knowledge to your team before you begin.
  • This is especially true when it comes to business side management and SOCIAL MEDIA.
  • Don’t forget your “MARKETING/COMMUNICATIONS”. Someone on the team needs to be PR savvy and know how to market and communicate your product, your stories and your overall mission.
  • And, you cannot start any of this without first knowing and intimately understanding your AUDIENCE/COMMUNITY. Who are you targeting? Why? Are you limiting your options/possible revenue by not fully understanding your community?
  • With all this in hand you must then make sure that each of the three lines is robust enough to support 100 percent of your TOTAL OPERATIONAL COSTS (if there is an economic downturn or a failure of one or both of your other sources).

This is a formula that not only allows an enterprise to begin, but allows you to scale (or not scale up and stay small, niche).
Conversation highlights:

Logan: If you’re looking to start something that goes beyond the home-based freelance gig, you need some basics of business beyond the journalism. You need to be able answer questions about all manner of insurance, accounting, managing budgets and all the other required legal and administrative duties.

Harris: But first you do need that great idea to start with.  And you need the passion to push that idea – without the two you are nowhere.

Davis: While at INN posed the following as an example of a non-profit start up:
–Suggest a head-count of at least five people; Three in editorial and two on the business side.
–The breakdown would be manager/editor/reporter, and on the business side, someone who manages the enterprise as though it were a business, and someone to liaison with the money.

Rosenthal: So then you get into the brass tacks of what you need.
In our world, non-profit investigative news operations, what’s most important is to have a good development team on board, someone who comes to the table with a good list of contacts in philanthropy and wealthy donors. Then you also need someone who is the “closer”, who can go to these contacts once a relationship is built and you’ve pitched – to seal the deal.

And, don’t forget that in the realm of development, you also need to have either people working on Public Relations, Marketing and Communications, or a sharp individual who can do all three.  You don’t want your editorial people trying to do this part-time for their own stories and projects, and your business people are not likely to be able to do the job with the kind of focus it needs.  But it’s vital, given that you need to get yourself and your work out into social media and on radio, TV and in print. It all brings eyes and ears back to your sites and that is essential when you talk to investors and donors about the kind of impact your stories have generated.

Davis: Of course, all this starts with the right CEO.  You actually do need someone who runs the entire organization.  Sometimes it’s not you, as the founder or original investor.  But it’s got to be someone who knows how to get their hands dirty on all fronts. Someone able to meet with donors and investors and then apply the funds to the right enterprise; someone who’s responsible to the auditor and to the board. And it has to be someone who goes to an editorial meeting, right after meeting with the development team and your PR/Mar/Coms folk.

Rosenthal: On the Development team leader or individual, you need that person to be someone who can own the challenge of finding money to keep the enterprise going. You (we) are the great journalists, but more likely than not, you will have no clue about what the hell you’re doing on the business side.

Which begs the question: How do you lead? There is a lot of success out there today, but it is difficult to identify a formula that works for everyone.

Harris: Comes down to needing someone to lead your team who knows how to close all the loops in your operation; someone who may be called upon to do some fill-in work on any one of these matters.

Davis: The reality is that there are a lot of small groups that have started, all trying to keep journalism alive. And we’ve told them that what you need to start with is a board with the leadership skills to help your mission.  If you’re out of synch with the board, nothing happens.

Logan: But what is leadership?

Rosenthal: It’s someone open to collaboration in key areas such as 1) Journalism…goes without saying. 2) Understanding bsuiness 3) Employing technology (not just journalism technology, like how to run a Word Press blog.) And you have to blend it all within a support system that goes from the board down to interns.

Harris: BUT DOES THIS ALL MAKE A DIFFERENCE ON A BOTTOM LINE? You still have to attract an audience and someone has to pay you so you can pay your people and keep the lights on, and even pay yourself.

Rosenthal: We do make a difference, yet the public still largely distrusts the media as a whole. The question becomes how we can tap into all that, collectively, and deliver a message from here, as a group?

Davis: The problem may be that our own marketing seems often to be aimed more at funders. But they (the funders) actually want to know how you are aiming at your community and audience.  Have you identified that before you launch?  If not, there’s trouble ahead pretty quickly.

Rosenthal: There are also too many folks going into ventures just with great ideas. That’s not enough. You need to have identified the sources of revenue for your operation. Lots of people overlook that important step.

Davis: Some organizations can work as viable mom and pop operations. Yet even the small ones have to ask just how sustainable their idea is. But for them it may not take much, especially if they’re not interested in becoming a larger enterprise. But for those that do want to grow, the obvious questions become how to you elevate your game? How do you grow your audience? So you need to think of the audience as your primary source or most leveragable asset for revenue.

Rosenthal: As a group, independents are always looking for ways to economize — to get services that might be too expensive for them to do on their own. So should we provide back office services?  Should we create a clearinghouse? Clearinghouse ideas have not worked so far.

Davis: Yes, even though people hoped they would work.

Rosenthal: We had our own hopes. It was a big goal, but it was tough.  Our California Watch Platform was good stuff. People did pay us. But in the end they didn’t want to pay, but wanted to give us stuff to put out there. For them CIR had become like a wheel-and-spoke entity.  But we found that great journalism alone is not enough to draw sustainable funding.

With Reveal, however, it was a platform that we did not initially feel comfortable with. It is about collaboration and commentary and we had to bring in talents that we didn’t have.  It did give a chance for some branding, though.  And that’s another thing a start-up should seek. How do you get the audience and have them know it’s you.  For us, it was important that they support/recognize Reveal and not think it was CNN or NPR coming at them. And now, we’re getting the numbers of outlets and entities coming to us to participate. Like Netflix and others. It’s crazy (good).

Davis: So there is the other lesson when you consider what it is that you need to start a non-profit. You have to identify how your collaborations and products will generate separate revenue streams. You want THREE separate revenue streams identified — each of which, if need be, could provide up to 100 percent of the funding your venture needs. That ought to be the goal. This is why you need someone on board with you, from the start, who has that business acumen – a CFO who can identify those revenue streams for you; a communications expert to get that out and could help with the development side so you can reach donors – the people who could be touched by your product, who care about public service journalism.

Logan: Yes, but you still have to engage the audience. How does that small organization engage and then sustain that engagement to survive?

Davis: Even if you’re just one-inch wide, you still have to be miles deep (i.e. very specialized). You have to have the authority and power. In the entertainment world, it’s the studio that creates products. For a CIR, it’s like a studio now and has created a brand with Reveal.

Rosenthal: Independent journalists can coalesce – start up – around interest areas and create content that is at least resonant with a community and audience that you have identified; all the while you or someone remains in charge and tends to the business aspects.

Harris: And you want to be able to show the IMPACT you’re having on your audience. How you’ve made or are making a difference. This will also help you when say you’ve identified an audience that can help sustain you.

Logan: You could say that as funders, we make investments in civil society to get organizations to the point where they’re making an impact.

Harris: This brings me back to the disconnect. Often in independent journalism, we know we need to do something, but then we drop the ball or can’t really afford to go out and find the expertise that can do that thing for you – the expertise in specific areas.  Maybe you can rent it, or find a place where you can tap into the expertise without having to invest in something full-time.

Rosenthal: Another thing you need to start up, something we all think we know a thing or two about and therefore don’t to worry about: social media. We think we know how to do social media, but it’s changing and growing all the time, and new opportunities come up as fast as the one you just learned no longer works the way you thought. You need someone who’s on that around the clock.

Davis: And that’s a tough spot for independent media because we’re having to compete for talent in that world and we can’t compete right now with what others are able to pay.

Harris: That’s why it’s important that we generate some market dynamics here so that competition somehow continues to push innovation. There are a number of talented thinkers here, who could push innovation.

Tofel: Two things come to mind. Out-of-the-box thinking on revenue streams and on ideas that will lead to revenue. And, a successful operation is able to take advantage of technology to help spread its work, and to develop ideas and stories and that drives up IMPACT.

At the end, Linda Jue came over and gave us all a good example of how great intentions and good plans don’t always lead to sustainable fruit. She described the goal; the rise and flattening out the Independent Publishers Association – which was one of the first groups to approach funders on behalf of independent journalists. It was a nice cautionary tale of how a great idea, even with distribution channels and 500 members, was unsustainable in the end

Exploring Best Practices & Navigating Possibilities

Friday afternoon, May 15

Co-hosts: Chris Faraone, Dig Publising, Boston

Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, Fund for Investigative Journalism

Note taker: Chris Faraone



  • Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine
  • Stephen Silha, Frisky Divinity Productions, Journalism That Matters
  • Julie Schwietert Collazo, Freelance journalist
  • Michael Stoll, SF Public Press
  • Valeria Fernandez, Independent journalist
  • Jeff Yang, Wall Street Journal Online
  • Michelle Garcia, Independent Journalist/Filmmaker

Faraone: Awesome session to which a few people referred in their closing comments. We rapped about connecting resources and identifying products that people are willing to pay for.


-How can we help and boost those who are already doing?

-How do we get people to care about stories they wouldn’t ordinarily care about?

-How do we make money in new ways?

-Why couldn’t (or how could) a collective of independent journalists and editors and publications negotiate a deal with Facebook like the one that the NYT just secured?


-Mentoring programs

-NOT introducing every facet of a project at the same time


-It’s the marketing, stupid!

-Upselling like PBS, but with print and web as well, and with new ideas incorporated

-Giving people products that they want (i.e. – not just tote bags and T-shirts)

-Trade and worker organizations that work differently, creatively



San Francisco Public Press (Michael Stoll)

-Legacy product (broadsheet) combined with heavy web presence

-Mix of paid and volunteer work

-Creative delivery method — bicycles

-Collaborations with other nonprofit news sources

-Upsell, upsell, upsell

ProPublica (“An independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”)

-Hard-hitting, award-winning

-Strong fundraising game as well, robust operation working hard to generate new creative funding ideas

-Good and thorough description on PP’s ‘About’ page

Maximum Fun Podcast Network

-Store where independent podcast makers can upload and market their work

The Chauncey Bailey Project

-A collaborative one-off project, but one that led to a lot of new and tight relationships and to the development of other projects

Intersections (blog by Daniel Hernandez)

-Successfully streamlines work from different places, areas of interest

AAN + TMC teaming up to share all #BlackSpring coverage

-Took a single conference call and some basic aggregating, set up in one day

-Has helped diversify readerships, drive traffic, introduce readers from far away to indie outlets in places like Baltimore

-Boutique Products / Special Magazines / Collectible Deliverables

-Repackaging old projects with artistic packaging and lots of bells and whistles (i.e. GZA Chess Board for Liquid Swords)

Visionaire Magazine

Frank 151



Contributoria (“The Independent Journalism Network”)

*This is probably the closest thing to since they went black. Writers post their ideas, and users can allocate either some of all their “points” for the month to that project and/or others. Great idea but with pretty awful interface. A positive is that all users get 50 free points every month — so you don’t have to pay to participate — but as some in our group noted, it’s really hard to get people to sign up and move around the site, as it’s rather clunky. Overall, this is a site that absolutely has to be looked at though, as there seem to be some answers as to how to help independent writers with crowd-sourcing for projects, which the likes of Kickstarter and the other bigs may not be well equipped for.

-First Google-funded, then Guardian — not apparently self-sustainable

-Users can get some credits for free to support projects, or they can optionally buy more credits

-More for individuals than for institutions

-Group did a pretty thorough critique (Julie has especially worked quite a bit with the platform):

-Not a user-friendly interface, hard to navigate

-Work of pro journos appears next to amateur content – no separation


*We didn’t spend much time on this, but belongs on this list (shameless self – promotional link to a crowdfunded project I did on there). While an increasingly popular blog and social media hybrid for individuals, largely thanks to a super smooth and easy-to-use interface, a lot of news orgs are also using Medium to tease articles and drive traffic. I’m pretty sold on Medium already, especially since they’ve been so responsive and helpful to a small-fry like me, but I think they’re here to stay, and know for a fact that their core crew in San Francisco is very interested in working with organizations and groups that practice journalism of all forms.

-Also some important talk about the lack of protection (legal and otherwise) for journalists working in these arenas

-Anyone can create a collection, but there are paid collections too. Here’s a good post on that experiment.

Blendle (Guardian called the “iTunes of journalism”)

*The only thing I really know about Blendle is that it seems to be working, and that young people are apparently reading their pants off in the Netherlands. A few things I’ve taken away from chats with people who are familiar with the platform:

-The news and distribution ecosystem is completely different over there, so that may be something to consider in making any sweeping predictions as to what can be done with this exact technology here.

-One thing to definitely consider is that people are presented with a lot of options on Blendle, and given the opportunity to really pick and read what they want. Which leads to the question of whether this is a feasible way to move important news that may not always be the sexiest clickbait.

-In any case, if you sign up for the beta on the homepage now, you will be among the first to know when they roll something out in the US.


*We didn’t talk about this, but for those who aren’t using Slack already, it may be something to check out for organizing newsrooms, stories, etc. I’m currently using it to organize a new project, and I would describe it as cutting a whole bunch of steps out of the way that I already set up systems. Instead of, say, creating a central Google doc, and then spinning off other related Google docs — all of which have to be manually linked back to the original — I can just #hashtag a new breakout topic, and there’s suddenly a slide for that. Lots more features too, like easy separation of teams, but I definitely recommend.

-Kickstarter campaign by Scott Carney (“A publishing platform for journalists to share payment structures, rate editors and sell pitches”).

-Aiming to create a type of Yelp! system in which writers and freelancers in general can rate editors and publications

-Group did a pretty thorough critique:

-General consensus is that something like this is needed but this isn’t enough money to do it

-Longer term plan is needed, what is end game?

-The group’s general consensus was that this is just not enough money, and that there simply won’t be the resources to pull off what Scott is trying to pull off. At the same time, a lot of this work absolutely needs to be done, as freelancers are being screwed at every turn and looking for answers.

Hacks and Hackers

*Great meetups for journos and technologists. Not sure what to say about this, as the conversations can encompass many things, but here’s a current exchange I’m having with people I met at Hacks and Hackers in Boston:

Austin –

At the local level, there is an unbelievable amount of information already available that is devastating, and that few reporters take real advantage of. Most notably, the state’s open checkbook and OCPF records (campaign contributions).

The latter are very hard to trace. Individuals can now give $1,000 apiece, but so can their wives, husbands, secretaries, mother-in-laws, etc. If we had someone helping trace that stuff, wowsers.

For me, it’s all about the contracts. Look at how many businesses the state did software contracts with last year. More than 550 (see attachment) …

Now, to trace those to the open checkbook is a start – what companies received how much. Then those costs need to be cross-referenced with company price lists (or what we know, how much does this or that drone usually cost for example). Then the final step is to trace lobbying money (separate from OCPF money, but that too) back to those companies.

There’s actually one more complicated step as well, but my point is that the many, many revelations on the bottom of that pile are far more devastating than any secret document. It’s all about the money. It’s all about the spending and campaign dough. Nothing else matters.

Hi Chris:

I took a look at the OCPF site. A web scraper could conceivably be used to pull data off of this site, as well as others. You could then perform any set intersection query to find interesting (or potentially damning) cross-references.

So, if you were to scrape the OCPF site and the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Corporations Division Registry, then you would have the names of campaign donors on the one hand, and the principle names of partners (for LLCs) and officers (for Corporations), on the other. Once you have that intersection, you could compare it with the list of software companies that won contracts with the state government that you sent me.

The web scraper would require some basic scripting. The set intersection can be done in either MS Excel or LibreOffice Calc.

However, doing all of this is a fair amount of work. I would have to write two custom web scrapers – or someone would have to; there’s no off the shelf solution. Web scrapers that query databases are site specific; they’re designed to plug through the site’s query functionality and pull out info. So, there isn’t an easy way to write a tool that would scrape any website, which the author could just put on the web for any

journalist to use.

What could be interesting is to set up system that continually scrapes several databases, and which offers a web site where anyone can search for interesting set intersections. That way, different people and different journalists could use it.
However, that’s not a trivial project at all. It would have to be funded. I’m up for teaching security tools & practices to activists and journos anytime; it’s fun and it’s a discrete time investment with a straight forward benefit for those involved. Building something like the above would require a substantial time commitment and the people involved would have to be paid.

*The following are personal notes that I took in a different session, but I thought they were relevant enough to include among best practices (-CF):

-How the Dodge Foundation is winning in New Jersey …

-They have an institutional knowledge and memory of the local media landscape

-They have money to spend

-They can spend money almost on the fly, without long process

-They get out there, meet editors and reporters in person

-They also support arts, ed, enviro reporting (not only in-depth investigative)

-They import and export good ideas from other states

-They are honest about past successes and failures

-They are not hung up on analytics

-They stick with grantees for longer than many other foundations

-They have an open and ongoing dialogue with donors and board members about programs

Not Free As In Beer or Free As In Speech, Free As In Lance: Is Organizing Independent Journalists A Game Changer?

Friday morning, May 15

Host: Jeff Yang, Wall Street Journal Online


Valeria Fernandez, Independent Journalist

Bill Densmore, Reynolds Journalism Institute/InfoValet Project

Craig Aaron, FreePress

Esther Kaplan, The Investigative Fund, The Nation Institute

Martin Reynolds, The VOICES Project, Bay Area News Group (attended second half of session)


  1. An assessment of the terrain: legality of the low compensation, compensation models from other industries, what the current entities such as the Writers Union are doing, the history of efforts to sue the aggregators (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for stealing content.
  1. A grant-funded audit of journalism workers by an entity with credibility in the space like Neiman, Poynter, etc. that would expose (1) freelance reporter/producer pay, rights, protections, benefits and (2) staff reporter/producer pay, benefits, workload/productivity.
  1. Exposing journalism sweatshop work through journalistic reporting.
  1. A Bill of Rights or common set of standards (possibly one for staffers and one for freelancers).
  1. We see a number of potential forms of leverage: lawsuits, regulation, public shaming, seal of approval for best practices, possibly rewards for that from funders, labor actions, funder requirements for disclosure or minimum standards.
  1. If we can get enough major players in place there’s the potential to create an industry standard.


Esther: Freelance rates have collapsed even as journalism staff salaries have more or less kept pace with inflation.

Jeff: And staff jobs are being converted into freelance jobs.

The common ground of the successful associations is they get powerful players to sign on to a common set of standards. Like the major studios or major sports franchises. Once they sign on it becomes the standard.

Val: I’d like this to include both print and broadcast freelancers?

Craig: What’s our leverage? How do you get others in the industry to advocate and pay in?

Esther: Could we pressure certain publications to pay in?

Jeff: Get a big player to put money in – for an outlet to get subsidies of their freelance rates you have to sign on to the agreement, with minimum standards. Five years to change your business model.

Esther: What if we look to the campaigns around unpaid internships?

Craig: Conde Nast faced lawsuits over their unpaid internships

Jeff: Sticks: lawsuits, public pressure/shaming, and organize the journalists to boycott

Val: Find the institutions/outlets that will be willing to sign on to a minimum set of standards

What about reporting about this to raise awareness? The conditions for immigrant journalists are terrible. We’re being paid less than minimum wage at the end of the day.

Bill: Legal challenges probably not winnable because the work is done offsite

Esther: But we should still look into the legal and regulatory challenges

Val: How would we determine fair standards?

Jeff: We also need to have a discussion of what is fair – what rights you preserve, what billing you get, royalties or revenues off of ads sold on your copy?

Val: We need to end signing your rights away eternally.

Jeff: Standards for people who write for free – what, tangibly, do they get in return? Do we need a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval for outlets, as well as a stamp of approval as a freelance journalist, which means you have to be paid.

Bill: What if we cut out the publisher middle man so reporters can go directly to their audience?

Esther: I strongly disagree with cutting out the editorial process – editors, fact checkers, copy editors.

Jeff: Funding to pay these wages for five years if you sign on to these standards.

Craig: There’s not enough money in philanthropy.

Jeff: The ecosystem is such that writer brands matter more than the brand of the outlet.

Craig: You’re asking the NYT to pay you for the thing even though you’re saying they don’t matter.

Esther: Can you green light several outlets that are already doing the right thing? AJam, Harper’s, etc.

Jeff: We might be able to get philanthropic money for an audit.

Val: Attach money to the seal of approval.

Jeff: We’ll subsidize you if you adhere to these principles, being that gives you the motivation.

Craig: Most funders want to support a project, say coverage of a certain issue. Maybe the funders have to sign onto the seal of approval, and say we’ll only fund you for this project if you’re doing best practices.

Val: Investigative reporting on freelance reporters could push the conversation forward. We also have to change the financial calculus to reward this.

Jeff: Minimum rates and standards for how you enter the game – look at pro sports and entertainment. You can do waivers and exceptions, but they’re written out and there’s a standard, a bill of rights. That’s the game changer – someone willing to enforce that stuff.

The funders seem key. Think about the pressure exerted on Nike and its production in other countries. They have no incentive to pay workers in Bangladesh more. But if you have retailers saying we won’t stock products made in sweatshops…

Esther: Some major outlets could respond to this pressure by deciding to eliminate freelancers entirely. That’s a risk. It happened with some internships.

Craig: It could be a basis for solidarity with staff reporters, because they’re basically working in a sweatshop as well.

Jeff: How about setting a cap on the amount of copy a staff reporter can be required to produce?

Craig: This is crucial: we need a bill of rights for the staffers as well. Otherwise we’re pitting staffers and freelancers against each other, and they’re both part of the same system.

Val: How do you get the Buzzfeeds etc. to be part of the audit?

Jeff: Audit needs to include staffers and freelancers. Some way to reward the good actors. Make that the viral way that both outlets and journalists sign onto this. Tipping point is where this becomes self-sustaining.

Val: Explore the quality of the journalism in relationship to the exploitation.

Craig: Tell the story of the journalistic sweatshops. Allow the places that are not operating sweatshops to be visible.

Jeff: Fair Trade model – that exists for products and goods but not services.

Craig: The research becomes really key. Think about the New York Times piece on nail salons.

Jeff: Even if people aren’t getting sick like nail salon workers, the rise of plagiarism etc. is directly a result of this sweatshop dynamic. A piece, possibly in Gawker, that was by a former Daily Mail reporter, and it was about what it’s like to work in a journalism sweatshop.

Val: In Spanish we used to call it the Fabrica de las Tortillas. In some publications a staff reporter has to produce 20 to 25 stories a week. From 700 words to a front page feature.

Jeff: At the Village Voice, which was a union shop. It was a militant union – we’d even go on strike. In order to protect staff from layoffs and overdependence on freelancers, we had a concept called the Bargaining Unit Freelancer – BUF. They had protections and rights as union members.

Craig: If this idea has legs, the study is clearly crucial. It probably also makes sense to talk to the Writers Guild (mostly Hollywood), the Newspaper Guild, the Writers Union, the Authors Guild.

Jeff: Whenever there’s a movement between platforms, there’s some leverage. Now that we’re moving off of websites to apps, which need shovelfuls of content. And in that moment of change you have a chance insert a new way of doing business.

Craig: One of the key questions is how do you address the same question facing musicians, etc., of: How do you get paid for your work? Everybody’s messing with this. Nobody has the answer. So if you can figure out how to make these working conditions and basic protections part of that conversation.

Esther: For example, royalties could be introduced into the model.

Jeff: With photos, music, other forms of creative content, the creator nominally retains control. Journalism is the only one that doesn’t have that.

Craig: There’s a research piece there that would be helpful. What are the existing legal protections and existing mechanisms outside of journalism for how people are getting paid?

Jeff: Some sort of standards for aggregators.

Val: There’s a problem with compelling the people on the top to care about it – the publications, the aggregators. What’s in it for them?

Craig: That’s what I like about your moment of change point. It’s our only shot. To make the point that the content producers have a value that’s not being represented. Inserting the voice of the writers and producers.

But the content in the walled-off app is a specialty item. The brand identity is fading. Most people are still clicking through for free through social media.

Politico Pro model – super expensive specialized reporting that people pay $5,000 a year for.

Val: So where’s the opportunity in the new way of doing business?

Jeff: Imagine you’re a shovelware writer. Twenty items a day. But you retain the rights after an exclusivity period.

Esther: What about Facebook?

Jeff: Facebook is now paying the NYT and a few other outlets to have original content that resides on Facebook. This is an interestingly disruptive moment.

Esther: Reporters – staff or freelance – are journalism’s idea machines. Overworked editors depend on them for that.

Val: How could we get access to the real production going on? Combining reporting about this with the audit, we make visible what is going on.

Jeff: The Writers Union has no carrots and no sticks. That’s why getting this audit going is the disruptive point of entry.

Martin: One of the funders said I can’t even see having the capacity to drill down far enough to learn this or provide oversight.

My wife’s a nurse and there’s a range of pay for nurses. There’s been a floor for RN’s that’s been set by the industry. So how could something like that be replicated?

Jeff: The acquisition of certain skills should be credentialed and compensated.

Martin: How realistic is it to try to establish that credential? Is it even doable?

Also, is public shaming workable, given how broke some of these organizations are?

Craig: Can we get the workers to the table?

Jeff: Why can’t content producers create their own HuffPo?

Martin: It’s time for journalists to articulate the value that journalists bring to the table.

Structures to Support Independent Journalism / Federating Associations

Friday afternoon, May 15

Hosts: Kevin Davis, KLJD Consulting, formerly Investigative News Network

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, The Media Consortium


Richard Logan, The Reva and David Logan Foundation

Linda Jue, G. W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism

Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine

Michael Stoll, SF Public Press

Richard Tofel, ProPublica

Bill Densmore, Reynolds Journalism Institute/InfoValet Project

Note taker: Michael Stoll

Jo Ellen: There are at least 14 associations to support independent journalism. They’re all either too small (50-100 organizations) or so big that they don’t pay attention to the news organization they support. There are opportunities in getting these groups to work together, but there are also dangers.

Kevin: Pursuing organic growth based on where news organizations are now, and just hanging on, isn’t going to succeed. What scalable structures can be introduced? Can we find a way to have shared back-end (underwriting, fundraising business functions), yet independent “front ends” (i.e. the branding and the content) that are unique to each organization.

Jo Ellen: Other possible shared services include technology, payroll and joint conferences. Alt weeklies have an ad exchange program. Could they expand their ad network to organizations belonging to other organizations they collaborate with?

Michael: INN offers Largo. More should be able to use it. Media Consortium does a lot of collaborations, such as Climate Desk. Each association could offer the services it specializes in to the others.

Jo Ellen: The associations themselves aren’t sustainable, and yet they each have membership directors, boards and 501(c)3 status. Should they federate to work more efficiently?

Sarah: Media Consortium can learn a lot from the Independent Press Association, which was a great peer network. Media Consortium helped Yes! transition to new database for subscriptions and donors.

Jo Ellen: We created that at a meeting with 20 people. So far only 3 orgs — Yes!, Bitch and High Country News — are using it. But they have an RFP out to expand it.

Kevin: What if the associations went away?

Michael: Associations are useful in helping foundations distribute money in “block grants” that might be too small for the foundation officers to bother with. Helps filter needed resources down to the ground level. Foundations would not ordinarily give such small allocations.

Richard L: Never funded an association before, but he’d like to see these organizations better supported. Might also explore culling ones that don’t work. Might consider giving block grants.

Jo Ellen: The Media Consortium has been given grants on issue areas, anywhere between three and 50 outlets able to do beat reporting, for example on media policy. INN specializes in services to members and best practices.

Kevin: Organizations can merge if they’re organized on the basis of a business model.

Jo Ellen: So far, all the associations are too small. INN has about 100 members, AAN has 118, Media Consortium has 75.

… Here’s a vision — foundations should have a roundtable with funders and associations to see how they can work together. Some might be consolidated, others differentiated.

… The Media Consortium is now in merger talks with the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. The alt weeklies need more content, so it makes no sense for the organizations to be completely siloed.

Kevin: The business models are very similar.

Sarah: Not completely overlapping, though.

Kevin: Advertisers look for efficiency, and if they can make a bigger ad buy, that brings more revenue.

Richard L: How do you do a friendly merger?

Jo Ellen: There are culture issues, and differences in mission between MC (“serious”) and AAN (“fun-loving”). Alt weeklies like to be local, have a rebel identity. Long-form investigative. The media consortium is serious, dedicated to the cause of what is right. The alt weeklies like to over-order liquor.

… Importantly, the alt weeklies have a reserve of cash, about $1 million. But there is a declining number of them.

Richard L: Culture clashes can stop many mergers.

Jo Ellen: There’s an 18-month strategic planning process, including joint conferences.

Richard L: Maybe there needs to be a new organization?

Sarah: Independent media needs sustainable funding that taps into broad demand for services.

Kevin: Market dynamics drive excellence. But if you create support organizations, in which everyone has the same employee ID number, they can all compete on the journalism but have a common set of tools, with savvy business leaders running the back end, and savvy local editors on the front end. For example, MSO organizations in health care. The reason INN can’t get into that business is that each organization has a separate employee ID number. If more of them were merged, they could effectively leverage their scale.

Jo Ellen: Another problem is that organizations have different missions.

Richard L: You could limit the extent of possible shared services to business functions such as taxes, benefits, accounts payable, tech, insurance, conferences.

Michael: But each organization can be independent editorially by having local boards under a larger board.

Kevin: So, is independent media fulfilling its mission?

Jo Ellen: Alternative media was always supposed to be supplemental, but what happens when mainstream news leaves a vast, gaping hole?

Kevin: Another possibility is to create an investment fund to have some organizations spin off franchises.

Jo Ellen: Not like Patch, which had the same approach to each community and wasn’t authentic.

Kevin: To be authentic, each organization has to be editorially independent. It needs to be responsive to the community. It can’t bee commoditized.

Richard L: So, what can be shared?

Jo Ellen: INN, LION, MC and AAN all have a lot in common.

… culture of standing apart and questioning power

… investigations

… never taking PR at face value

… all offer services others can benefit from. These include PR databases, content management systems, etc.

… all interested in fundraising

… all need advocates

There’s a need to start convening these associations.

Richard T: You can start federating slowly, by pooling resources one by one. If successful, membership will ask for more collaborations.

… ProPublica has no interest in anyone advocating on his behalf. When you advocate you end up being a supplicant.

Sarah: Start with having a joint conference.

Kevin: Overall, things have been happening too slowly.

Richard T: Yes, there is an expiration date to the current economic expansion. The industry needs to be in a better place before the next recession hits. Otherwise the whole field will suffer.

Sarah: Need to start with specific kinds of collaborations.

Richard T: It’s worth exploring a group buy with Zenefits, a middleman that offers insurance and employee benefits. ProPublica spends about 22 percent of payroll on benefits, and if it can save some it would be worth exploring.

Kevin: Another thing is standardized contracts.

Jo Ellen: Federating would enable bulk discounts on technology tools.

Kevin: You could also establish lines of credit.

Richard L: One potential problem with federations is no one lets go of special interests. If it’s not done right it can get ugly and lead to splintering. Federation should happen in a narrow band before associations consider merging entirely.

How Do We Listen to What Audience Wants, Turn Audience into Indy Journalism Advocates

Friday afternoon, May 15

Co-hosts:        Craig Aaron, FreePress

Iván Román, Communications Consultant, formerly NAHJ


Robert Rosenthal, Center for Investigative Reporting

Gail Ablow, Freelance Broadcast & Digital Journalist

Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, Fund for Investigative Journalism

Molly de Aguiar, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

Peggy Holman, Journalism That Matters

Note taker: Gail Ablow


Ivan: What tools do we use to get the community to value independent journalism enough to increase its influence and maximize impact?

Craig: How do we listen to what the audience wants? How do we turn the audience into independent journalism advocates?


  • Journalism that invests in community will invest in you.
  • How do you make community engagement sustainable?
  • Find out what the community values. Show them what you do, and do it better.


Craig: How do you get communities to become advocates for journalism?

Robert: It is symbiotic, creating a relationship and understanding of needs. From a journalist’s perspective, we are watchdogs. In terms of the community and making a difference in people’s lives and making a good investment, how do you get there?

Ivan: Social media.

Robert: A membership model alone won’t work. Non-profits need foundation funding. How do we use social media and technology to harvest from and nurture the community?

Craig: Not all communities have a big funder.

Robert: We are all competing for resources.

Ivan: We got our news for free forever. We have to agree to invest. We saw it in Ferguson. There were conversations on Facebook. People understand what bad journalism is. We need to get people who are jaded to re-think and value independent journalism.

Craig: Journalists need to go in with more humility. It is a two-way street. Often it stops at we’re here to do public service and we don’t ask what’s missing in the content and what they want the journalist to do. We need to open up that dialogue. We have a pilot project in New Jersey to organize community events and we need to do it through social media. And we need incentives.

Ricardo: The Fund for Investigative Journalism is in communities of color, helping the journalists who have done successful pieces and taken them to other communities so that they can show them how they did it. An example of what we try to do is with David Armstrong and the Georgia News Lab. We gave him guidance on how to tailor a proposal that comes from a project generally aimed at a community. We don’t fund general projects, but suggested they select a story for possible funding.  This is an example of how we have a pot of money and we work help grantees maximize funding and achieve the impact they’re after.

Robert: How do you message? Whatever issue, push it out to get people engaged?

Craig: Journalists need to do a better job. We forget to make the case – here’s what the reporting did.

Robert: We have a social scientist with us measuring the impact. The public is oblivious unless we focus on getting our story and message out about how we make a difference.

Ivan: I have dealt with the Latino community specifically. NAHJ had forums of 150 people. That’s a way of getting to the community.

Molly: Having a geographic community focuses it.

Ricardo: Susan Ferriss’ story, from the Center for Public Integrity, was about school cops and disparities in discipline. It got big play and had a big impact because it was amplified by a partnership with CIR and Reveal on radio. Then people in individual communities saw that she had national data and data for communities, and they wanted to replicate that in their own communities.

Robert: We are trying to do that too. How do we create the constellation? I agree with going to the community. How do we transfer that into revenue?

Craig: I might help put on an event. Tell people here’s what your $5 will do. Take the tools from advocacy and the online organizing world. I could help you figure it out. The tools are there.

Molly: You’ve done the hard work of interacting with the community and building relationships.

Craig: The audience values the information.

Peggy: News organizations can convene a community. The Seattle Times is using a Gates grant to cover education. Because the stories are coming from an appreciative point of view they are willing to do it. The issue of discipline in the Seattle schools has connected disparate people, encouraged them to build partnerships.

There is an example out of Cedar Rapids; a story about affordable housing. They got government and non-profits together and hammered out the agreements.

What is a service that helps a community thrive? How do I turn the editorial into the public square? What does the public square want to be in the digital age?

Ricardo: Michelle Martin is a personality and NPR is a brand. She did a town hall after Ferguson that was very successful. The audiences became more engaged. The engagement part is crucial.

Robert: Youth Speaks. Street poets. We use the form to get information from them. We want it to be a loop. It takes time and expense. We work with a theater group. We had a poet and a playwright on staff at CIR. Some people thought we were crazy. There was push back at first.

Peggy mentioned somewhere that they are rapping the news (Jasiri X in Pittsburgh).

Molly: Community engagement happens all through the process. Whether it is through plays or poetry, it is innovative and important.

Ivan: I see two questions – 1) how do we get the community involved in the discussion? 2) Where do you go from there? How do you increase the involvement?

Craig: you have to get buy in from a newsroom. It is collaborative.

Ivan: How do you grow it?

Craig: it might be identifying a core group and you keep the relationships going.

Peggy: St. Louis has done community engagement for a long time. They had contacts and connections and relationships.

Robert: Use local public media and collaborate.

Peggy: There is a Washington State Arts Commission example. They needed a strategic plan that the arts community would buy into. They did 17 gatherings across Washington State. In each market there was a local host. The issue was opportunities for the arts to thrive. The cost was minimal. On the payback side, they had a strategic plan and support from local artists. When they took a financial hit, the arts organizations rallied and prevented the state from cutting funding.

Ricardo: They harnessed the power of the network.

Ivan: I’m from Puerto Rico where the public values journalism. Independent journalism needs to do a better job of impacting people’s lives. We are drowned out by Fox News. The public needs a wider understanding.

Molly: My focus is relevance. People and voices are being excluded. They don’t see their reality reflected. For example, NPR is a very white audience.

Robert: We did the project, Rape in the Fields, with Frontline and Univision. We did that and we were looking for what kind of pickup it had. Spanish-language media was exploding. The reaction was incredible. We brought it to the community. But it was a one-off and a very expensive project.

Peggy: It sounds expensive, but fundable. There is a public out there. You need a campaign like “Intel inside.”

Robert: How do you parlay its importance into a nugget? We had a forum with one of the women who was a victim of rape. Afterward, she thanked us: “The worst thing in my life, became the best thing.”

Ricardo: Something must be learned from the organizing campaigns of the 1960s. Cesar Chavez went house to house to speak with people. He turned to the people with impact. My sister did that too, with public health in San Diego. You bring in a group of women who become the “promotoras.” They spread the word to the community. You embed the community leaders and expose them to the process, then they become the spokespeople.

Molly: I fundamentally believe journalism that invests in the community will be rewarded with investment from the community. They know when you [the journalists] are on their side. Community engagement takes time and effort and it’s a culture shift.

Ivan: Mainstream media outlets are scared of being advocates. Ethnic media is not afraid to advocate for social change.

Robert: We are aggressively pushing out through social media. It did lead to tips from whistle blowers.

Ivan: Connecting with people who care about that story in another place – how do you reach them. How do we take the next step?

Craig: NPR has a massive audience, a huge donor base, but no sustained engagement. What do we do to keep people engaged on an issue?

Robert: The question is when everybody is going 160 mph, how do you keep that momentum alive?

Ricardo: When you pose that question, will you help us? Help journalists do stories on climate change, on juvenile justice etc.

Ivan: Is there value of distinguishing between legacy and independent journalism?

Peggy: Or call it “public service” journalism.

Robert: We say that and funders get it.

Ivan: You can phrase it differently for different people. What Molly said earlier was key – engaging the community. Collaborations with legacy media complicate it. There might be an opening to advocate and increase relevance. But independent media the motivation is not profit. It includes hyper-locals serving the community.

Robert: Our goal is to serve the public interest. The mission is not profit.

Craig: The definition is fluid – how do we support all of the above.

Macro Strategies and Sources of Money

Saturday morning, May 16

Host: Craig Aaron, FreePress

Esther Kaplan, The Investigative Fund, The Nation Institute
Linda Jue, G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism
Richard Tofel, ProPublica
Bill Buzenberg, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy
Sarah Van Gelder, Yes! Magazine
Kevin Davis, KLJD Consulting, formerly Investigative News Network
Jay Harris, Public Intelligence Inc., formerly Mother Jones
Bill Densmore, Reynolds Journalism Institute/InfoValet Project
Stephen Silha, Frisky Divinity Productions, Journalism That Matters
Julie Schwietert Collazo, Freelance journalist
Molly de Aguiar, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
Michelle Garcia, Freelance journalist and documentary producer

Notes prepared by Jay Harris.

Funding from government/public sources: Craig noted that there are models for government funding of journalism that work in other countries, but the consensus in the group was that, in the current political context, it is difficult to see any short-term prospects in the U.S.

Increasing philanthropic support. Richard Tofel referenced a Steve Waldman report noting that contributions from individuals, not institutions, constitute most of American philanthropy. If 1% of all philanthropy were directed toward journalism, that journalism would be funded abundantly. Richard suggested an effort to persuade Americans to “put journalism on the list” of their reflexive charities, along with schools and the arts. Several specific campaign ideas flowed from that.

1) One was the notion of persuading donors to political campaigns – especially those who are appalled by current campaign spending madness but who don’t feel they can unilaterally opt out – to commit to contributing $1 to “fighting and fixing” the problem (efforts that include alism) for every dollar they contribute to political races. We agreed that a marketing effort to target that very specific audience was needed.

We discussed:

  • Developing a common slogan that could be used by individual media organizations as well as for any collective campaign.
  • Coordinating promotion efforts on a common day, such as was done on Giving Tuesday. (First Amendment Day, marked in some places for late Sept., was suggested as a possible date, though it’s not clear that there is a nationally recognized date.)
  • Pitching the notion to the Democracy Alliance. (We would need to find a member of the Alliance to sponsor a presentation of the idea.)
  • Identifying political donors who would publicly support the campaign.
  • Examining the Gates “Giving Pledge” model to see how we might emulate that success.

Related to this and other possible joint fundraising efforts, there was some discussion of whether we might come up with an acceptable formula for allocating funds contributed into a pool. Some thought it might be worth putting some time into trying to devise such a mechanism, but others cautioned, “there lies madness.”

2) Another idea was to organize an effort aimed at community foundations. Molly noted that community foundations can be great partners for local independent journalism, but local news orgs need to work hard to develop relationships with foundation program staff about the critical role news and information plays in building better, more vibrant communities. Others present suggested that this effort might include delegations of journalists and community leaders. Bill Densmore recommends people look at

3) Other ideas included:

A systematic effort to persuade companies such as Apple to make donating to media easier through their tech payment platforms, for instance, through a donate button embedded in iTunes.

Donations through payroll done through a check box during payroll elections.

Stephen Silha suggests contacting family officers that handle the assets and in some cases the charitable giving of high net-worth individuals to get them thinking about journalism as a public good.


  • Establish a working group on revenue development: Craig Aaron, Linda Jue, Kevin Davis, Jay Harris. Set a date for a first call by June 1.
  • Initiate an effort to connect with the Democracy Alliance re: pitching a match for political spending: Dick, Esther, Jay.
  • Start a process of discussing public funding. Even though it might take 5-10 years to get anywhere with it; the discussion should start now.  – Craig / Free Press
  • Dick Tofel and Molly de Aguiar will initiate efforts to get IJ-Thrive onto the radar of community foundations. Molly to help with messaging.
  • Develop idea of a branding campaign for independent journalism (c.f., the “Red” campaign). Kevin Davis.

Could We Imagine Public Support for Journalism?

Friday afternoon, May 15

Host and note taker: Esther Kaplan, The Investigative Fund, The Nation Institute


Richard Tofel, ProPublica

Chancellar Williams, Open Society Foundations

Martin Reynolds, The VOICES Project, Bay Area News Group

Barbara Raab, The Ford Foundation

Partial attendance: Craig Aaron, FreePress; Linda Jue, G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism; Jennifer Preston, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation


–A variety of subsidies already exist

–Is there a constituency that could back a campaign for government support for journalism?

–Are there content-neutral forms of subsidy that would work?

–Is there a tax code-driven subsidy that would work?


–No matter what subsidy you dream up, how do you decide what organizations and individuals qualify as “journalists”?





Esther: It seems difficult to rally around public support for journalism unless we can imagine mechanisms for public support that we as journalists would be comfortable with. Something that wouldn’t leave journalism organizations as vulnerable to political pressure as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?


Dick: There are some functional models out there, beyond the CBP, such as postal rate subsidies. They have worked well because they are content neutral.


Esther: Andre Schiffrin laid out various models of public support for publishing in Europe, such as government funds to purchase copies of books published by French publishing houses. Could that be translated to journalism? For example, public libraries each getting a pot of money to spend on journalism subscriptions?




Some commented that in the U.S. we have seen tremendous changes in media policy that seemed impossible at the outset. Some then asked why the BBC was insulated from political pressures in a way that the CBP is not.


Dick: There are such profound cultural differences between the UK and the US.


Others answered that the airwaves already constitute a massive public subsidy to commercial journalism. Media ownership laws changed the way media works so that you had to be large to survive.


Dick: What if we estimated the true commercial value of the airwaves and taxed 20% of that value, and gave that money to support journalism?


Others commented that in the US, there is the illusion that the market has shaped the current state of journalism, but it’s really the policies that have created the system we have now. When questions emerged of whether people valued journalism enough to care, some of those present responded that maybe people don’t value “journalism,” but information sharing is highly valued. As examples, it was noted that there are people on the street taking a picture and drawing the media to it. People have a critique, a fair one, of how the mainstream media covers them.


Esther: So the question of a public subsidy for journalism is tied to the question of the credibility of journalism — and the democratization of journalism.


Questions emerged about whether journalists themselves would back a campaign like this given their allergy to advocacy. Campaigns like this are not easy — you need a constituency. Look at the campaign for Net Neutrality as a model?


Martin: Could you align the interests of big media organizations and journalists themselves? Could journalism associations lead the charge?


Craig: There are several pots of money that could be tapped, for example, the revenue from spectrum sales. Or we could put a tax on every cell phone. You could take a source of funds like that and create a trust with the money. You could imagine an Americorps or WPA-style program where public funds could pay for midcareer journalists to train young journalists, for example. So it is a political question of mobilizing support for it to be used in this sort of way.
Jennifer: What’s the latest analysis of community information needs? Knight did one in maybe 2008 or 2009 — is there a more recent one?


Craig (?): There was a Pew study around 2013. Jay Hamilton at Stanford has done pretty recent gap analyses, capturing where the news deserts are.


Who Funds? Who Gets? How Do You Measure?

Friday morning, May 15

Hosted by: Michael Stoll, SF Public Press


Gail Ablow, Freelance broadcast and digital journalist

Molly de Aguiar, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

Chris Faraone, Dig Publishing, Boston

Michelle Garcia, Independent Journalist/Filmmaker

Barbara Raab, The Ford Foundation (requested to speak off the record, so comments excised from these notes)

Martin Reynolds, The VOICES Project, Bay Area News Group

Julie Schwietert Collazo

Stephen Silha, Frisky Divinity Productions, Journalism That Matters

Michael Stoll, SF Public Press

Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine

Chance Williams, Open Society Foundations (requested to speak off the record, so comments excised from these notes)

Scribe: Julie Schwietert Collazo


Michael: If being large is a criterion for success, is that viable? Described experience of seeing a much bigger project get funding while he did not; when he asked about rationale for his project not getting funded, the funders said, “We bet on the big horse.” Someone in room asks, “What happened to the big horse?” Michael replied, “It broke its leg and they took it behind the barn and shot it.” Elaborated by explaining that the funded project went bust after two years.

Michelle:  Offered Democracy Now as a model for engagement, mentioning that despite smaller audience relative to bigger outlets, its audience is intensely engaged and loyal.

General comment: Placing the big bet is what funders do. If it pays off, it furthers the big-picture strategy. What a fundee perceives as a failure [as in the example offered by Michael] is not necessarily perceived as a failure by a funder.

Molly: “There’s no consensus- no one way to fund journalism.” She explained that the mandate of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is very geographically specific, focused on projects in New Jersey. “Funding journalists’ salaries is not sustainable over time. Funding infrastructure is what’s sustainable.”

Gail: Do journalists’ and funders’ missions match?

Michelle: Spoke about projects that are great on paper but fail to reflect actual needs and abilities. Asked whether all audiences are weighed equally.

Chris: [referencing what Molly explained re Dodge Foundation] “I like that you’re not necessarily setting up shiny new things,” that you’re capacitating existing infrastructure.

Molly: It’s so hard to put foundations in a single category. It’s tough for journalists because you can meet a foundation representative who really gets what you do, but then they move out of that foundation, or out of the field altogether. You have to seek the people you can develop a relationship with. It’s hard. I know it’s hard.

Chris: Expressed frustration about money being invested into colleges and universities by foundations, but seeing college/university j-school programs completely disconnected from their surrounding communities.

General comment: The bigger the funder, the harder it is to fund an entity that’s not an institution of comparable size. It’s a mismatch for a big foundation to fund a small organization.

Molly: There’s aversion to risk. There’s the political bent of board members. [referencing some of the reasons why foundations might deny funding]

Michelle: Spoke about frustration related to “serial fellows”– people who get a fellowship and then get more and more fellowships because of previous fellowships, and how this creates a kind of elitism and closed system.

Chris: Difficulty of finding local funding when local philanthropic organizations have hands in so many local matters (gave example of Boston Foundation).

General comment: Any organization primarily dependent upon foundation money is going to be unstable.

Gail: Raises the idea of “organic certification” or “fair trade certification” for independently produced journalism – so that people can understand that independent journalism is produced differently and is desirable and worth supporting because of that.

Chris: Talks about model for funding an investigative series at his publication.

Martin: “For the funders in the room, how to you measure impact? What are the internal dynamics that influence project success?”

Martin: How is your performance evaluated?

Molly: The board doesn’t get into the weeds. We tend to stick with grantees for a long time. The Board wants to better understand how we make our decisions and how we balance being patient with current grantees (because change is incremental) with making space for new grantees and new ideas. It’s a tricky balance.

Michelle: Raises membership models.

Sarah: So, for impact skeptics, why are you skeptical and how do you determine success?

Responses to question include: Facebook likes are not necessarily indicative of impact, though these types of data are collected. The long-tail value of an investment isn’t always visible in a quarterly or annual report; often, the pay-off of an investment is much, much longer. You don’t necessarily know the impact. Program officers tend to feel success is determined more intuitively, even if/when an organization/foundation is looking for quantitative outcomes.

Molly: Money runs out fast at foundations.

General comments from funders: Budgets change from year to year. Even multi-million dollar budgets go quickly– there’s never enough money to fund all of the projects program officers would like to fund. At the foundations represented, it’s likely that once you’re in touch with a program officer, you’ll be funded. The investment is toward funding approval although, of course, it’s never guaranteed.

Michael: Can foundations speak to microfunding and collaborative funding interests?

Molly: Pledge drives are preaching to the choir. The more you are working to actually get into the community, the more sustainable you’ll be over time. What’s hard about that is the culture shift and the fact that it takes a long time.

Stephen: Is it reasonable to expect that foundations would insist that grantees pay a living wage to their journalists?

Responses included: issue of coercive funding; would such a requirement only serve to reinforce journalistic elitism by favoring outlets that could afford to do this in the first place, especially once the grant funding runs out?

Chris: Raises issues about the reaction time/nimbleness of foundations to respond to acute needs in the fields of journalism/media– gave example of how he received frantic emails from Baltimore, asking for help with video editing; the idea of developing a sort of a journalistic emergency response network.

Michelle: Raises issue of foundation investing as reinforcing elitism/segregation/entrenchment.  Not all audiences are valued the same.

Chris: Raises issue of editorial independence. Also says that there are some journalism ventures that just shouldn’t exist; some shouldn’t last forever.