New round of ‘Grow + Strengthen’ grants available to support local news revenue experiments in New Jersey

Grants will exclusively fund revenue-related projects for local New Jersey publishers

Joe Amditis
8 min readDec 16, 2019

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THE APPLICATION PERIOD FOR THIS PROGRAM HAS CLOSED.

In 2013, the Center for Cooperative Media launched the first round of its Grow + Strengthen program.

The goal was to give micro-grants to a handful of hyperlocal news startups in New Jersey to help ease some of the financial burdens associated with starting your own news outlet. We did it again the following year, this time focusing on local publishers looking to spend more time doing investigative reporting. Over the course of two years, we seeded and nurtured a total of 15 local news and information projects across the state.

Five years later, we’re excited to announce the latest iteration of the program, which we’ve dubbed Grow + Strengthen: Revenue.

Grow + Strengthen: Revenue is intended to support revenue-generating work and experiments by New Jersey news organizations. The Center’s broader goal is to help these news organizations work toward sustainability.

This iteration of Grow + Strengthen will award grants of up to $5,000 to six local news and information providers in New Jersey. The grants will be awarded to proposals that support revenue experimentation and projects related to preserving and improving the sustainability of local news and information providers.

Grantees will also receive a one-year LION Publishers membership paid for by the Center — as long as the grantee qualifies for LION membership, of course—as well as business coaching from Kelly Gilfillan, chair of LION Publishers. Gilfillan is the award-winning publisher of the Home Page Media Group division of FW Publishing, a hyperlocal news publishing company. She leads a team which publishes six daily online news sites and a business-focused magazine.

The deadline for applications is Jan. 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. The applications will be judges during an evaluation period from Feb. 3 until Feb. 7, 2020.

Winners will be notified the week of Feb. 10, 2020. The revenue experiments and sustainability efforts outlined in the grant proposals should be conducted over a period of six months, during which time grantees will be expected to document their efforts and provide a midterm report in May and final report in early September 2020. Grantee feedback surveys will be distributed and collected in September 2020.

Why are we doing this?

Many of the small, independent local news organizations that the Center works are so busy working to keep their business afloat that they don’t have time to conceive and implement new money-making experiments and additional revenue streams. We hope these small grants provide some of that space.

But the grant money isn’t the only thing of value when it comes to something like this. It’s also the coaching and support, and the sense of community belonging that comes with programs that encourage peer learning and knowledge-sharing.

As such, we’re launching this latest round of Grow + Strengthen to help us accomplish the following three primary goals:

  1. Seed and support business and sustainability initiatives for hyperlocal news outlets in New Jersey.
  2. Provide NJ News Commons members with access to organizational support from LION Publishers.
  3. Encourage more local NJ publishers and journalists to think creatively about revenue and sustainability issues as they relate to journalism.

We hope this program will help fortify and expand the local news ecosystem in New Jersey by supporting projects that attempt to tackle one of the most pressing issues facing local news organizations not just in our state, but across the country and around the world: money.

What kind of projects will be funded?

We’re looking to fund projects that are directly related to increasing revenue and improving financial sustainability for local news organizations in New Jersey. That could include everything from experiments with events and in-person revenue, to subscription and membership programs, to paywalls, to merchandise experiments, to premium content and exclusive verticals. We’re eager to hear your ideas and to work with you to make them happen.

If you’re looking for inspiration, you should take a look at this somewhat dated list of “52 Business Ideas to Support Local Journalism” published by the Local News Lab in 2015.

You might also want to take a look at this write-up from 2015 by Debbie Galant and Joe Michaud, which summarizes the lessons learned from the first two rounds of the Grow + Strengthen program. It has plenty of useful information about how the previous two Grow + Strengthen programs worked, along with a helpful roundup of some of the major hurdles local publishers were facing at the time — many of which are still relevant today.

When you’re ready, fill out an application and submit your proposal using this form. The application window opens today, Monday, Dec. 16, and closes on Friday, January 31 at 5 p.m.

Each application will then be reviewed and evaluated by an independent judge, who will use a weighted scoring rubric that gives preference to applicants who are low-income or identify as part of an underrepresented or marginalized group, as well as those who clearly lay out the details of their proposal.

Award winners will be notified during the week of Feb. 10 and announced thereafter. Projects should be completed—or fully under way—by the end of August.

Click here to view the application: bit.ly/gsrevenueapp

Who is eligible for these grants?

  • Applicants must be a current or prospective member of the NJ News Commons (click here to learn more about how to become a member)
  • Proposals must be explicitly tied to generating revenue or improving the sustainability of an existing NJ news and information business.
  • Applicants must be based in or primarily covering New Jersey communities.

Other frequently asked questions (FAQs):

If you can’t find the answer to your question in the FAQs below, send an email to info@centerforcooperativemedia.org and the Center will do its best to help you out as soon as possible.

What can I spend the grant money on?

The money must be spent on executing your revenue project. That could include costs related to staffing, software, equipment, marketing, etc. If you have any specific questions about this, please contact the Center at info@centerforcooperativemedia.org.

What can I NOT spend the grant money on?

The money cannot be spent on any political-related activity, such as lobbying, and cannot be spent on anything that is not directly related to the execution of the revenue project.

What will be expected of me if I receive a grant?

All grantees will be required to submit the necessary university paperwork so your award can be processed in a timely manner. Grantees will be asked to submit a mid-year and year-end report. You’ll also be asked to participate in a grantee survey to help us improve the program in future iterations. Finally, you’ll be expected to share your progress and learnings publicly (within reason) at some point along the way.

What if I don’t spend all of the money?

If you don’t spent the entire grant, you will be required to send any unused portions back to the Center.

What if my project will cost more than the grant?

It’s very likely that many projects will cost more than this grant can pay for. You’ll want to think through how you will cover those costs if you apply for a grant.

If I wanted to do two projects, can I apply for two grants?

Applicants can submit multiple individual proposals for consideration, but the Center plans to give only one grant per applicant.

When will I be notified of my application status?

As soon as you apply, you’ll get a confirmation email that includes a copy of your application. After that, the Center plans to notify grant winners and those that did not receive a grant during the week of Feb. 10. If you’re selected, you’ll get a grant letter with more details and additional information about what is needed to process your award.

Will you pay the grant to me or to my business?

The Center prefers to pay the grant to the business entity. If you need your grant paid directly to a vendor, the Center can work with you on that.

How will I receive the funds and how long will it take?

It will be your choice of receiving a mailed check or a direct deposit. The money should arrive within about 30 days following successful completion of the required paperwork. Note that university systems move more slowly than you may think! It can take the full 30 days from the day we confirm receipt of your required documents for a check to arrive.

If I am denied funding, will you tell me why?

The Center will try to be as transparent as possible if your application is denied about why it wasn’t accepted. The scoring rubric is a weighted system that gives preference to applicants who are low-income or identify as part of an underrepresented or marginalized group, as well as those who clearly layout the details of their proposal. Due to the volume of applications expected, the Center likely won’t be able to proactively reach out and ask you to amend your application.

What if you haven’t answered my question in these FAQs?

Email info@centerforcooperativemedia.org with your question.

Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact him at amditisj@montclair.edu or on Twitter at @jsamditis.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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Joe Amditis

Associate director of products + events, Center for Cooperative Media; host + producer, WTF Just Happened Today podcast.