How New Mexico Newsrooms Made Progress Diversifying Revenues, Sharing Content
News outlets increased grants, launched podcasts, and joined the new NM StoryShare
In the fourth year of the New Mexico Local News Fund’s Accelerator program, it felt like many publishers were able to move beyond surviving and toward thriving again. As one publisher told me in their feedback for the program: “I appreciate so much the things you’ve enabled us to do, allowing us to take some chances and branch out.” The program started as a way to provide COVID relief in 2020, along with some business support, but now that many businesses have stabilized, they could take chances with new revenue ideas.
A few tried out podcasts. Others launched or redesigned their email newsletters. Some leaned on in-person fundraisers. Many joined our new AP StoryShare group to share content with each other. And others relied on Broadstreet Ads to improve advertising prospects. These are positive signs of progress and growth that we haven’t seen since before the pandemic. (You can read more about the goals of the 17 news organizations in the Accelerator in this previous post.)
And the momentum has also been felt by our award-winning statewide nonprofit newsrooms (all four participated in the Accelerator this year for the first time). They’ve received new funding, are participating in our end-of-year Matching Campaign, and have hope that the $500 million Press Forward funding coalition might trickle down to New Mexico.
5 Signs of Progress
Here’s a summary of some bright spots we saw among the local news publishers who participated in our Accelerator this year.
- More collaboration and content-sharing.
It’s nice to meet on Zoom each month with Accelerator participants, and we even have a Slack channel to talk more online. But nothing beats being in person for building camaraderie and making collaboration easier. We had a great turnout of Accelerator publishers at our first New Mexico Local News Summit, and that was mentioned as a big highlight of the year.
“The Summit at the end of September really put a fine point on what I’m hearing at conferences and in conversations with major funders: All of us in New Mexico need to collaborate and partner more,” said Trip Jennings from New Mexico in Depth. “Already, I’m talking more with leaders of other news outlets about how we can partner in the future.”
One way they did partner was through the new AP StoryShare content-sharing system. We had folks from the Associated Press join a cohort meeting to demo the system, and we eventually launched a New Mexico StoryShare, where publishers could easily upload their content (text, photos, audio, video) so others could publish it with credit. Already, we have 18 newsrooms participating in StoryShare, which is free for AP members, and a sliding scale of $50 to $100 per year for others. We hope this leads to not just sharing of stories, but potential editorial collaborations in the future.
2. A renewed interest in podcasts.
Podcasts have had a serious boom and bust cycle since their first rise in the late ’90s (yep they go back to the iPod days). With many larger news organizations such as the New York Times and NPR making podcasts popular for news, many New Mexico publishers wanted to follow suit. Three publishers planned podcast launches as their main goal for the Accelerator, with the idea of supporting them with sponsorships.
So far, the Santa Fe New Mexican has launched “Conversations Different with Inez Russell Gomez,” and Taos News is readying a similar podcast for launch soon. The Santa Fe Reporter abandoned its plan for a podcast, and other publishers decided to wait and see. We had a special cohort meeting dedicated to podcasts and just how much they can cost in time and equipment. Yes, it’s true that anyone can start a cheap podcast, but to create a well produced podcast can cost a lot more.
As Kevin McDonald, a podcast producer who previously worked at New Mexico PBS, told our cohort, the cost to produce a podcast’s season can run up to $10,000 for equipment, staff time, distribution and promotion. To make a podcast pay, publishers need the right equipment, audio producers, a solid audience and then sponsorships! Creating a podcast for 100 listeners won’t cut it.
3. Statewide nonprofit newsrooms get grants, awards.
New Mexico might have a lot of struggling for-profit newspapers, but it also has some thriving nonprofit online newsrooms. In fact, all four of our statewide nonprofits were in the Accelerator: New Mexico in Depth, New Mexico Political Report, Searchlight New Mexico and Source New Mexico. They’ve each found success in different ways: NM in Depth got a grant from Emerson Collective, while Searchlight received a grant from Con Alma Health Foundation to hire a healthcare reporter. NM Political Report is in the midst of a full site redesign, while Source NM hired their first part-time person to help get grants.
Plus, both NM in Depth and Searchlight won “INNY” awards from the Institute for Nonprofit News, while Searchlight won a Pinon Award from the Santa Fe Community Foundation. Those are big honors and truly put New Mexico journalism in the spotlight. And most of them will be participating in our Matching Campaign this December, where we match how much they raise in donations up to $5,000 per newsroom.
4. More news outlets are upgrading technology.
For the second time, we had an online Demo Day to showcase various news technology platforms that might interest our cohort of publishers. We also brought back our technology consultant Stephen Jefferson to provide one-on-one Office Hours for publishers who needed help.
This year, we had a few publishers moving to new technology. Both the Santa Fe Reporter and Gallup Sun decided to use Broadstreet Ads, with the Sun actually launching its new email newsletter with help from Broadstreet. Broadstreet provides ad serving and formats that help increase digital ad sales.
“The connection with Broadstreet was very helpful,” said Julie Ann Grimm, publisher of the Reporter. “We didn’t realize how much this would help our ad workflow until we tried it.”
Also, Ctrl+P Publishing decided to move its publications to Newspack for its content management system. In the case of its alt-weekly, The Paper, it was actually moving back to Newspack after trying out Creative Circle.
5. Growing subscribers and revenue streams.
When it comes to sustainability for news publishers, growth helps. More email subscriptions, more website visitors and more social media followers means a larger audience to pitch when you need donations, subscriptions and memberships.
Here’s an abbreviated list of stats from the Accelerator publishers this year:
- Abiquiu News is on track to grow subscriptions by 10% by the end of the year. Facebook reach was up 74% over last year, with engagement up 20%.
- KSFR Public Radio in Santa Fe saw its email list increase by 50% this year, while a letter-writing campaign from a board member brought in $17,000.
- Las Cruces Bulletin brought in $38,700 in revenues from a new special sponsored content magazine, “Locals,” that highlighted local businesses.
- Radio KTAL had another successful “open house” fundraiser this summer, and also had its grant from McCune Charitable Foundation nearly doubled.
Challenges & Looking Ahead
Despite all the positive growth and successes of the year, publishers still face headwinds. Finding and retaining staff is a big problem, and we even had a cohort meeting specifically focused on that topic, creating a list of tips and best practices for publishers. Printing prices have gone up, and the number of printing presses has gone down. New technology can be expensive and take staff time to implement. Foundations and major donors can be fickle, leaving fundraisers to make more and more pitches.
Still, we feel that the Accelerator program has made a difference, especially for smaller publishers in rural areas of the state. Our monthly cohort meetings on Zoom were well attended, and popular topics included content-sharing, email newsletters and audience development.
Getting to see one another in person at the Summit was fantastic for many publishers and for us at the Local News Fund to connect, brainstorm ideas and consider how we can collaborate in the future. Overall, it was great seeing folks in person and online, and helping newsrooms become more sustainable in the long-term so that communities get the vital local news and information they need.
“We appreciate this program enormously, not solely the money which absolutely means a lot, but the ability to be plugged into groups around the state,” said Nan Rubin from Radio KTAL. “The Summit was really terrific in letting us see how many of us there are here, and hear about what other groups are doing. I also thought the panel presentations were really terrific. Thank you so much!”
Mark Glaser is the Director of Business and Program Development for the New Mexico Local News Fund. He is also a communications consultant at Knight Foundation, and was the founder and executive editor of MediaShift.org.