From The Knight Foundation

From The Knight Foundation

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

PBS’ MediaShift highlighted a study about a recent revenue boom for 18 nonprofit news organizations around the country, including the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

According to the study released by the Knight Foundation, revenue for nonprofit news organizations increased by nearly 30 percent from 2010 to 2012. MediaShift notes that “the Center for Investigative Reporting recorded the highest revenue in 2012 at $12.1 million; that includes $4.9 million in donor revenue from its merger with The Bay Citizen.”

The study, “Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability,” examined local news organizations, state news organizations and publications that largely work on investigative projects. It’s a follow-up to a sustainability study the foundation conducted two years ago, which found eight local startups could prosper when they balanced investments in editorial activities with business development, technology and marketing.

The gist of the study is that these organizations have been able to grow, while other news outlets have shrunk, because of agility in their business model.

Non-profit news organizations have learned to diversity their revenue streams, use social media technology to promote their content effectively and have shifted their news strategies with the times. All of this has allowed a group of non-profit news organizations to grow while many other models have either stagnated or diminished.

MediaShift reported that many of these organizations are changing up where they get revenues for their respective sights by relying less on foundation support. According to Media shift, “syndication was by far the fastest-growing source of earned revenue, with money also coming from corporate sponsorships, events and advertising.”

The study finds the average reader spends just more than two minutes looking at the 18 non-profit news organizations’ websites. That’s not a lot of time to monetize an audience, especially one with a 68 percent chance of bouncing from the site after reading only one page. However, non-profit news organizations that focused on state and government politics saw steeper web traffic increases between 2010 and 2012 than their local news counterparts. VTDigger, a project of The Vermont Journalism Trust, increased web traffic from fewer than 10,000 unique visitors at the start of 2010 to over 80,000 at the end of 2012.

There is also a growing trend of social referrals driving traffic more than search engines, which suggests greater engagement. The Rapidian, the Lens, Wyofile (out of Wyoming) and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting received more than a quarter of their traffic from social media referrals.

From The Knight Foundation

From The Knight Foundation

And unlike other news websites, non-profit news organizations focus efforts on repeat visitors—as opposed to unique visitors. This is because these sites don’t typically have new content as frequently as other sites, so they are more focused on understanding what makes past readers come back.

Lastly, MediaShift noted that  the “most sustainable non-profit news organizations constantly redefine their audiences and incorporate that feedback when pitching sponsors and membership programs; they strive for diversity in funding and build partnerships to reach a broader audience and develop another revenue stream in syndication fees.”