How do you cut through the noise and get your story seen when most readers are dealing with information overload and "news fatigue"?
How do you reach readers in a news desert? As a result of regular newsroom layoffs and media consolidation, news deserts are growing in rural areas. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 57% of rural residents say their local media mostly covers another area, such as a nearby city.
How do you reach a young audience when many of them (64%) believe their least-liked news source hurts democracy? According to Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, "This erosion of trust has important implications for the way young people will seek and receive information in the future."
Due to all these obstacles and more, publishers are getting creative with how they develop story ideas, deliver them to readers, and generate revenue.
Let’s look at a few unique outlets putting their own spin on the news model.
1. Tortoise Media: “Do less but better”
Tortoise Media is a venture by former BBC News director James Harding that offers a “different kind of newsroom.” Rather than chasing breaking news stories, which can exhaust readers and journalists alike, Tortoise Media focuses on what shapes the news and gives stories more time to develop.
The “slow news” outlet launched in beta in January 2019 with more than 2,500 members and, since then, has grown to more than 8,000 members. It got off to a great start on Kickstarter, receiving more than 7x its initial funding goal.
Tortoise’s lower-priced tiers mean this reader-funded journalism is accessible to a wide range of members, critical for attracting a younger audience. And it’s working. Publisher and Co-Founder Katie Vanneck-Smith told Digiday that 42% of the founding members are under 30 years old.
The staff of 50 aims to publish five stories per day maximum that offer in-depth coverage of a variety of topics, some of which are suggested by non-journalists or experts in other fields. Tortoise also hosts regular “ThinkIns,” discussions attended by both editors and members which Harding has referred to as “organized listening” and “civilized disagreements.”
2. THE CITY: Independent nonprofit, yet part of the network
THE CITY was created to fill the gap left by the shuttering of the Village Voice and DNAinfo and layoffs at local New York City outlets like the Daily News. The staff of about 15 covers NYC-specific news topics like transportation, housing and real estate, immigration, and criminal justice.
THE CITY launched last fall with $8.5 million in seed funding from donors including the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Leon Levy Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Although THE CITY is an independent nonprofit publication, the digital startup partners with New York Magazine, which provides tech, editorial, design, and distribution support. Articles from THE CITY are published on New York Magazine’s CMS Clay and are viewable on the magazine’s website. The two outlets also plan to work together on future enterprise stories.
This unusual setup means THE CITY’s writing has a direct line to New York Magazine’s large audience.
According to former New York Magazine editor-in-chief Adam Moss, “We believe that our partnership with THE CITY provides a new, replicable model for how nonprofit and for-profit journalism can work together.”
3. Kinzen: Creating a personalized, healthy news habit
Kinzen is a news app that’s putting users in control of their news experience. Co-founded by Storyful founder Mark Little and based in Dublin, Kinzen is community-led and member-driven. With an absence of advertisements, it’s basically the opposite of social media news delivery.
By using a network of experts to share and discuss quality news stories from diverse sources, the “top-down, 'curated' organization” works to counter the spread of misinformation and dishonest sourcing.
In April 2019, Kinzen raised €500,000 in funding – a solid showing for the digital news service that aims to provide “news to fit the rhythm of your day.” Members can choose their channel of interest and preferred time of day for reading the news. For example, if you only want to read content during your lunch break or commute to and from work, the app allows you to customize it.
To create a more “mindful” news routine, Kinzen bases content suggestions off members’ concrete feedback, rather than what’s in their browsing history. This is a more effective metric than just measuring clicks and likes. As Little explained to journalism.co.uk, “We are hoping to make users empowered, giving you the ability to construct some form of filter and ranking system that reflects your intentions and not your instincts.”
4. Collaborative Journalism Projects: Sharing the load
Covering topics in depth takes time and resources that not every outlet has. We’ve recently seen several great examples of publishers pooling their resources to put together some incredible journalism.
- Ten local newsrooms came together in the months leading up to Chicago’s municipal elections in April and created Chi.vote, a local voting guide. Each news partner was able to focus on its strengths to create the site, which received 70,000 unique visitors and 2,000 newsletter subscriptions over the course of election season. Fernando Díaz, editor and publisher of the Chicago Reporter, one of the project partners, said, “If we join forces, we can distribute the load so everyone is not doing the same thing. We can complement each other in ways.”
- In North Carolina, 11 news organizations and more than 30 people worked together to create Seeking Conviction, an investigative series on sexual assault convictions in the state. The outlets shared a Google Drive folder that included guides, plans, and goals. To create the stories, they went through three gigabytes of data and held three listening sessions with survivors, attorneys, and health care providers.
- In July, two collaborative climate change projects focusing on the Delaware River Watershed and Ohio Watershed were announced. Local newsrooms will partner with The National Geographic Society, which will provide its network of visual journalists and scientific experts, among other resources. This is one of many recent climate change journalism projects. Stefanie Murray, director of the Center for Cooperative Media, told Poynter, “Complex topics, investigations and issues that impact a lot of people lend themselves well to journalistic collaboration.”
5. Noteworthy: Crowdfunding investigative journalism
Currently in beta, Noteworthy is a digital news platform that produces investigative journalism based on story suggestions from the public. “We want to create a new platform for supporting important journalism, one where reporters and members of the public can team up to deliver the stories that matter,” the site explains.
Noteworthy is a project from TheJournal.ie, a leading online news source in Ireland, and is partly funded by Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund.
The model is broken down into a three-part process: Readers suggest story ideas that they think need more investigating; Noteworthy creates a proposal; and it takes that proposal back to the community to generate funding for the reporting.
According to a case study by Engaged Journalism Accelerator, 14 stories have been funded so far and €15,000 pledged, making it clear that readers are willing to pay for stories they want to see published.
As the media landscape continues to evolve, so will the news model.
The continuing growth of AI, podcasts, and newsletters, and the shift to digital are opening doors for traditional and non-traditional outlets alike to try something new.
In a climate of misinformation and low (but improving) trust in the media, finding new ways to source stories, distribute them, and grow an audience will be critical to a publication’s success.