Need to Know: December 15, 2020


You might have heard: How COVID-19 is reshaping grantmaking (American Press Institute)

But did you know: Nonprofit news has come of age in 2020 (Knight Foundation)

2020 has been a difficult year for many news organizations, but nonprofit outlets have proved resilient throughout. Nonprofit news is not new, but the recent wave of online nonprofits has become more secure, finding support that is grounded in audience loyalty rather than foundation grants. Many are less reliant on local advertising than other news outlets, which means they didn’t suffer from that lost revenue stream during the pandemic. Nonprofits are becoming more diverse and covering underserved communities, and collaboration and partnership deals have allowed them to fund bigger projects and distribute them to wider audiences.

+ Noted: A record-breaking number of journalists were arrested in the U.S. this year (Freedom of the Press Foundation); Norman Pearlstine, executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, moves into a senior adviser role while the search for his successor continues (The New York Times); Report for America has doubled the number of its partner newsrooms owned or operated by Black and Hispanic journalists (Report for America); The Virginian-Pilot and the Daily Press published unsigned editorials related to Dominion Energy written by a columnist who also works for the company (VPM News)


Podcast: Building strong community partnerships (It’s All Journalism)

The Sacramento Bee is working with community groups from outside the world of journalism to attract new readers, gain access to a diverse talent pool of journalists, and elevate the voices of under-resourced communities in the Sacramento area. This episode is the latest in “Better News,” a podcast series from It’s All Journalism and API that shares success stories from the Table Stakes newsroom training program.


Defector publishes freelancer policy, with rates, created in partnership with the National Writers Union (Twitter, @barry)

Defector, the sports publication founded by former staffers of Deadspin, has published a freelancer policy developed in partnership with the National Writers Union. Defector Deputy Editor Barry Petchesky posted the policy on Twitter, with a link to a place to pitch and a promise to readers of “kick-ass freelance features” to come. The policy lays out clear pay rates for all editorial work, a fee schedule and rules for reimbursements. The policy also states that freelancers may “negotiate above the standards stated in this unilateral announcement if desired.”

+ Earlier: The Intercept published a statement of principles for its freelancers, which it hopes other news outlets will use as a model (Columbia Journalism Review)


Nigerian publication takes a new approach to business reporting (International Journalists’ Network)

Since 2017, Stears Business has focused on in-depth analysis and serious coverage of economic issues in Nigeria. Founded by four Nigerians who met while studying at the London School of Economics, the digital-only publication appeals to students and young professionals. The goal is to explain how money moves through the economy and how economic policies affect both the country at large and individual residents. The site publishes one article every weekday, and has focused on training industry experts to be journalists, rather than relying on journalists to become experts on their beats. During the pandemic, the site launched a subscription model, one of the first in the country.

+ Russia’s new guerilla media are going after Putin (Bloomberg)


How some Black startup founders are thriving in a pandemic year (Wall Street Journal)

Raising money for a new tech start-up has always been difficult for those living outside of New York City and San Francisco, particularly people of color. So for many Black tech founders, the pandemic has enabled them to thrive. With Zoom meetings and social media networking replacing face-to-face conversations, the physical barriers to meeting investors have been lowered for many start-ups outside of the big cities. And after the killing of George Floyd led to a reckoning with racial issues in many industries, investors have concentrated their efforts on funding minority-owned companies.


Is profit-seeking incompatible with the media’s core democratic functions? (The New Republic)

While the influence of “vulture” hedge funds on local newspapers has been widely decried, Rachel M. Cohen in The New Republic argues that even more benevolent owners of local news outlets cannot prioritize both profit-making and journalistic excellence. She gives the example of The Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., a chain of papers owned by a state pension fund for government employees, which has attempted to save money by “regionalizing” editors and merging papers. The hope of wealthy owners “saving” publications has fallen as billionaires have sold papers and laid off staff when returns suffered. Instead, Cohen argues, the industry must look to public subsidies to support local journalism, saying, “There frankly just is no viable alternative if we believe access to news is something all citizens deserve.”


Philanthropy should be a key funding source for local news (Local News Initiative)

Many local news outlets have turned to digital descriptions as their main source of funding, but Local Media Association CEO Nancy Lane says that philanthropic support also has an important role to play in local news funding. She says news organizations that combine reader revenue with philanthropy can hire more reporters, whose salaries are paid or subsidized by groups like Report for America. Collaborations funded by charitable organizations are often big draws, which can in turn lead to more subscriptions. And on a smaller scale, many subscribers are also happy to donate money to help support a local news outlet.