If You Build It, Will They Come?

The News Revenue Hub and the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School recently released a playbook for how to launch a local, nonprofit news outlet.

There’s good news for those of you itching to launch your own local nonprofit news outlet. Recently, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, in partnership with the News Revenue Hub, released a playbook for doing just that — from fine-tuning your vision to identifying your audience and diversifying revenue streams. Building on the Hub’s experience with news organizations, industry groups, and researchers across the country, the playbook is designed to provide emerging journalism ventures with the strategies they need to get started.

Adam Fisher and Adam Giorgi are co-authors of the playbook and graduates of the Harvard Kennedy School. They wrote the playbook in collaboration with Hub CEO Mary Walter-Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Tristan Loper.

Fisher notes, “There are a lot of guides out there that are truly a wealth of knowledge that could inform someone on how to launch their digitally-native nonprofit news outlet. But we wanted something concise, something you can easily refer to and have a viable roadmap.”

“You can read this playbook in an hour and it may seem like common sense,” says Hub CEO Mary Walter-Brown. “But I can tell you that 90% of the organizations out there didn’t follow the steps it recommends — like creating a business plan and conducting market analysis. It’s much easier to make assumptions based on your own life experiences than it is to do the market research. That’s a big misstep.” Walter-Brown added, “ Starbucks would never open up a store without doing a feasibility study so why should a news organization be any different?”

Based on real-world case studies like Mississippi Today, the playbook provides a step-by-step guide for turning a pie-in-the-sky idea into a viable business. It’s also useful for existing organizations that might want or need to revisit their priorities and better build the business side of their operation.

As Walter-Brown explains, the playbook was conceived as something that could help emerging news outlets avoid common pitfalls — ideally before they launch. “Oftentimes it’s the journalist who gets an idea and starts writing. It goes from a blog into a website rather quickly. And you worry about the audience later.”

“You can’t just assume that if you write good journalism, people will read it. Knowing your market is essential. But even if your market is tough, there are ways to succeed,” says Fisher.

Adds Loper, “It’s crucial that news organizations set themselves up right from the start. The future of local journalism depends on your diligence — not just in the reporting, but on the business side, too. We hope the playbook provides a helpful framework to doing things right.”

Fisher and Giorgi wrote the playbook as part of their Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) for the Kennedy School. They had just returned from summer internships at ABC and NBC, respectively, when they started brainstorming ideas for their PAE. The duo shared a passion for public interest media as a means toward civic liberty. Recalls Giorgi, “We knew local news was struggling and that this was going to have big implications on how our democracy works and on our civic life so we wanted to play some sort of role in digging into that problem and trying to solve it.”

Most importantly, they wanted their project to have a real-world impact. Hence the partnership with the News Revenue Hub.

“It was great working with “the Adams” on this project because they brought a fresh perspective to the process of building a healthy business model for news,” says Walter-Brown. They approached the playbook as if they would be reading it and trying to execute it themselves. In fact, I hope they do!”

Says Giorgi, “I just want to express gratitude that organizations like the Hub are out there trying to tackle the issues in our news and media environment right now in an active, tangible way. That makes me hopeful that the work we did, however narrow, will have some impact in the years ahead.”

You can access the playbook here. And Walter-Brown encourages those interested in launching a local, nonprofit news outlet to reach out to the Hub for additional help. “We’re excited to be able to provide the playbook, but also offer in-person consulting to help news organizations utilize it to its fullest potential,” says Walter-Brown.

If you’re interested in learning more, contact us.

About the Shorenstein Center

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy is a research center based at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, with a mission to study and analyze the power of media and technology and its impact on governance, public policy, and politics. Research, courses, fellowships, public events, and engagement with students, scholars, and journalists form the core of the Center.

About News Revenue Hub

Founded in 2016, News Revenue Hub helps others in the news industry set up comprehensive membership and crowdfunding programs so they can achieve greater sustainability. The Hub helps organizations with member recruitment and retention, audience engagement, and custom software installation, so participants can focus on what they do best: producing high quality journalism.