Nonprofit News Sector Growing, Diversifying Revenue, Survey Finds

Nonprofit News Sector Growing, Diversifying Revenue, Survey Finds

Over the past decade, nonprofit news has emerged as a fast-growing field within the broader journalism field, with nearly two hundred organizations employing an estimated twenty-two hundred journalists and generating combined annual revenue of nearly $350 million, a report from the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) finds.

Based on survey responses from eighty-eight INN members, the report, INN Index: The State of Nonprofit News: 2018 Survey Report (24 pages, PDF), found that 40 percent of respondents consider their primary mission to be investigative news journalism, while one in four say it is explanatory analysis. The survey also found that roughly two-thirds of respondents cover government, two-thirds report on the environment, and half cover education or social justice and inequality, with a third of respondents overall focusing on a single subject such as health, education, or the environment. According to the report, single-subject news coverage is one of the fastest-growing sectors within the nonprofit media space. 

Funded by the Democracy Fund and the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the survey also found that revenues of nonprofit news organizations are stabilizing, with more than half of nonprofit newsrooms generating more than $500,000 in annual revenues and a third generating at least $1 million in fiscal year 2017. In 2015, INN found that slightly fewer than a third of its members reported revenue of more $500,000, while 40 percent fell into the $100,000 to $500,000 range. 

Nevertheless, the report notes that nonprofit news organizations are still largely dependent on philanthropic funding, with grants and donations accounting for 90 percent of total revenue, and 56 percent of respondents reporting a "very high" (30 percent) or "somewhat high" (26 percent) share of revenue from foundation grants. At the same time, nonprofit outlets are starting to diversify their revenue sources, with more than half claiming to have at least three revenue streams and a third reporting at least four. Nonprofit media outlets also tend to be lean and typically dedicate two-thirds of their resources to editorial operations, the report notes, although those that are at least a decade old invest 15 percent of their budget in revenue generation, or about double what nonprofit news startups spend in their first two years. 

"The good news is that the field is evolving and quickly growing as a significant source of original, in-depth journalism," the report concludes. "These newsrooms and the news entrepreneurs who lead them have created a collective incubator for the future of public service journalism, finding new ways to share knowledge, include and engage people in civic life, and strengthen our communities."

"INN Index: The State of Nonprofit News: 2018 Survey Report." Institute for Nonprofit News Press Release 10/02/2018.