Many news nonprofits work with other media organizations — print, broadcast and digital — to get their content out before a larger audience. Agreements can take many forms, and some are aimed at promotion rather than providing direct revenue.
Promotion involves more than raising the news nonprofit’s profile. Free distribution of content through other channels can bring readers into news nonprofit’s audience development funnel. It becomes a first step for a reader who might go on to visit the nonprofit’s website, subscribe to a newsletter, and develop a longer-term relationship as a casual or regular reader, subscriber, donor or member.
There are open and closed platforms for this indirect distribution:
Facebook and YouTube are open platforms in which no business relationship is required to post content. INN encourages members to be active on Facebook, either by using Facebook’s built-in Instant Articles tool to publish directly on the platform, or by using links to drive traffic back to the member’s website. Many news nonprofits need that web traffic to generate revenue and deliver messages about newsletter signup and membership opportunities.
Closed platforms carry content subject to a distribution deal that may or may not involve paying the content creators. Whether or not the news nonprofit is getting revenue, it must carefully weigh the benefits and costs of the distribution deal.
A good distribution deal is one in which the news nonprofit gains audience that it can measure and connect with. Some sites provide content providers an analytics dashboard showing how much engagement each article received, valuable data for a nonprofit to show funders its total reach. Even if the organization’s priority is getting its content consumed, knowledge of the size and demographics of the audience is important for the nonprofit to make its case for its relevancy. At a minimum, a platform getting free content should publish a link that can drive audience back to the nonprofit’s website.
Too much indirect distribution can cause a nonprofit to lose its relationship with its audience. Other deal breakers are when the free distribution competes with existing paid distribution deals or the arrangement requires too much time and effort. Apple News is an example of a platform that requires some calculation by publishers. Although Apple must approve a news organization’s participation, that’s the easy part, so it’s virtually an open platform. But significant time and technical investment is required to format, manage and monitor content published on Apple News.
News nonprofits should seek a mutual 30-day cancellation policy, rather than be locked into agreements they can only get out of during a short time once a year or by providing a long notice of cancellation. Also, the agreements should not require carrying more media liability insurance than members already have, typically $1 million.
INN secures third-party distribution partnerships on behalf of its members. More information about that networking is (LINKS).
— Information from Jonathan Kealing, INN chief network officer