Advocacy and authenticity in action: lessons from the nonprofit sector
Differentiation is a challenge for local news organizations at every level and in every market, and success in the oversaturated media marketplace demands news organizations find ways to stand out.
As some traditional local news providers struggle to adapt an authentically local framework for their coverage, nonprofit news organizations are breaking the news model and testing out innovative new ways of producing and distributing local news.
Nonprofit news organizations are often inherently different from their for-profit counterparts who remain behind on critical elements of the marketplace. Recent Magid research shows that Millennial news consumers in particular want news brands that don’t just report the facts, but advocate for communities.
Many traditional news providers still struggle to maintain their centralized unbiased perspective while positioning themselves as a key part of the community. That disconnect showed itself in no uncertain terms in our 2022 Local Media Landscape study. We identified “authentically local” as a framework to address that. As the news landscape continues to shift radically, news organizations should be asking themselves how to make that authenticity visible to the community outside of broadcasts and owned platforms through marketing, community engagement, and everyday life.
In many ways, the nonprofit news sector has already been playing with ways to implement an advocacy-oriented thinking. Two-way communication between reporters and consumers, audience-voted content buckets, and community editorial boards are just some of the options that nonprofits add to the media marketplace.
Many nonprofits share coverage, resources, and collaborate on bigger stories – things almost unheard of in the for-profit sector. This creates opportunities to better understand local consumers through concept testing, consumer insights, or co-creation sessions. Rethinking how for-profit news organizations compete within their community and identifying opportunities for collaboration could be huge opportunities for bold organizations looking to stand out.
Nonprofit news organizations are also more likely to have missions explicitly linked to service or covering otherwise overlooked communities. By emphasizing their presence in the community and building workflows around community needs/wants, nonprofit news coverage centers around the broader concept of news advocacy. Viewers want to see reporters in the community, at important local events, and otherwise engaged with the people they’re covering. The Modern Advocate in news shouldn’t be issue-based or taking a side: they should already be well-positioned as on the community’s side, an approach that serves nonprofit news well. Thinking about advocacy as a framework for how you relate to the community and not a content strategy is the key differentiator here.
New revenue strategies
Legacy public news organizations that rely on direct sponsorship historically appeal to educated, middle class populations, and the support pipeline isn’t always as strong for new organizations focused on niche, marginalized, or economically disadvantaged groups. Sponsorship and ad revenue can be difficult for those nonprofits to secure, with little expected ROI. Most challenging, our research shows that each market is unique, and what works in one area likely won’t work in another; the models can’t be copy-pasted.
Preliminary data from INN’s 2022 Index Survey shows that local nonprofit news organizations are having success in growing their revenue base. Relative to their national and regional counterparts, local news nonprofits rely on earned revenue for 29% of their operating budgets (12% for both national/global and state/regional) with only 40% coming from foundations.
Scaling challenges abound
The promise for industry-changing impact is there, but nonprofits face major scaling challenges. While support and dollars for nonprofit news exist currently, those pools of money are likely to dry up and competition for what remains among nonprofits will intensify in economically challenging times.
Scaling sustainable revenue models and adapting those to rural and regional markets remains a major challenge. Many of the local nonprofits emerging are in urban areas with a disproportionately high number of journalists relative to rural and mid-sized cities. A number of these organizations often have historical ties to universities, and the perceived academic lens of nonprofit and public news coverage further alienates nonprofits from the general public.
Magid knows local news matters: it’s the most trusted news out there, it’s proven essential for democracy, and it builds our shared sense of reality. We also know that the real value of news coverage doesn’t lie in just the facts, but how local news providers communicate them.
Consumers are seeking a relationship with their news brands, and nonprofit news is meeting consumer demand right at its core. To win, legacy local media organizations need to similarly demonstrate how they are essential and indispensable to their communities.
We’re in the middle of a major news culture shift and wise minds will keep an eye on the nonprofit sector to see what the next 20 years will look like.
Interested in a deeper dive into these insights and more? Let’s talk.