Not-for-Profit News Deep in the Heart of Texas

Posted on 27. Jul, 2009 by in New News Organization, Not-For-Profit

The wave of not-for-profit start-ups looking to cover local and statewide news continued to grow last week with the announcement that the Texas Tribune acquired the Texas Weekly, a subscription newsletter devoted to Texas politics and government. As newspapers continue to struggle and advertising revenues fall, it seems like new news organizations are finding it easier to get off the ground without having to worry about making a profit in the bottomline (MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, and the St. Louis Beacon are three examples that leap to mind). In our research so far, we’ve come across successful for-profit news start ups less frequently.

As Neiman Lab noted, the deal gives the Tribune, which is set to launch this fall, a team of experienced reporters and an archive of content dating back to 1984.

The Tribune’s founder, venture capitalist John Thornton, told Alan Mutter last week why he thinks the not-for-profit model is the only avenue for quality, public-service journalism:

“In 2006, we looked at the challenges being faced by newspapers and how guys like us could make a profit,” he said. “The for-profit conclusion was to buy lead-generation businesses and that has worked out for us.”

But…

“I was reminded of something my pastor said when I was a kid growing up,” he explained. “If you mix politics and religion, the pastor said, you get politics. The same thing seems to be true in journalism. If you mix journalism and business, you get business. That’s when I realized serious journalism is never going to be a really good business again.”

Thornton told our own Jeff Jarvis last month that raising enough money through donations to cover state government should be a cakewalk, and might even lead to an increase in reporters on the beat.

Dance companies in Texas raise $20mm a year. . . . If journalism philanthropy, 10 years from now, were the size of dance, we’d put 150 reporters on statewide issues and could literally change the way state government operates. Think about that: an extra 20 at the capital; a couple each for all the agencies and the school board; 20 on the border. You almost can’t spend that much money responsibly. I don’t need opera. I don’t need visual arts. Don’t need symphony. Just give me dance, and I’ll change state government.

But, the starting budget will be closer to one ball than the entire dance season. Thornton tells Mutter the Tribune will run on a budget of $2 million and support a staff of 15 reporters. They won’t cover the waterfront of the state government, but they will be able to focus on the energy industry, the border with Mexico, and how demographic change is transforming the state’s politics. As Andrew Donohue, the editor of Voice of San Diego, another not-for-profit newsroom, noted in a chat with us last week, for a start up focusing on getting just a few things right in the beginning works best anyway.

Finally, here is a surely meaningless, though still interesting, indication of the Tribune’s anticipated Web 2.0-ness: even though it won’t even begin publishing for a while yet, it already claims more Facebook followers than any other newspaper in the state.

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5 Responses to “Not-for-Profit News Deep in the Heart of Texas”

  1. María

    28. Jul, 2009

    I am teaching media management in a university in Montevideo, Uruguay and I really follow your ideas and believe there might be the future for news. But here is my question regarding all this. We are a 3 million people country with a really poor advertising market. People are also concentrated in the capital city (the half of the population). Moreover, as you may know, the charity donation, or non-profit, or foundations culture is not developed in Latin America as in the United States and also there are no much resources. So, what are your suggestions when I try to encourage my students to think in new proyects for investigative journalism and new business models?

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  2. Matthew Sollars

    29. Jul, 2009

    Dear Maria –
    Thanks for your comment. We are about to put out a list of revenue opportunities available to online news organizations. Hopefully your students will find some ideas that will work in Uruguay.
    First, though, you should take a look at Spot.Us. An experiment in community funded reporting. Readers fund stories they want to read by making small donations.
    http://www.spot.us/
    Hope this helps!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Rayat Ngo

    19. Oct, 2009

    As the programmes and projects of NGOs expand, the need for money to run their operations becomes all the more critical. Much of this comes from third party funding organizations, either in the country where the NGO operates, or in OECD countries that assist projects in developing countries

    Reply to this comment

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  1. Requests for Revenues | News Innovation - July 29, 2009

    […] to hire more reporters or just make sure that what they’ve built so far is sustainable. Maria from Uruguay summed it up pretty well in a comment to one of our posts yesterday: We are a 3 million people country with a really poor advertising […]

  2. Requests for Revenues | News Innovation - July 29, 2009

    […] to hire more reporters or just make sure that what they’ve built so far is sustainable. Maria from Uruguay summed it up pretty well in a comment to one of our posts yesterday: We are a 3 million people country with a really poor advertising […]

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