Content distribution may seem like a technical issue but you must also think of it as a key strategic decision.
Most aspects of your business model, how you reach readers, build audience and drive the impact of your journalism will all flow from your strategy of how you get the news to your audience. In addition to funding journalism, distributing journalism has become one of the great, complicated challenges of all news media today. In chapter 4, we will explain the basic revenue sources you have available – money from patrons and foundations, readers donating or buying memberships, sponsorships, ad sales, events, syndication, and payment for training and other services. The mix that works for you will depend on where you fall between or combining two basic structures or strategies for news nonprofits: Are you creating a publication or a reporting service?
If you have determined that you want people to come directly to you for news, you will be building a direct relationship with consumers. You may market to them through social media but your goal is to have them come to your website, get your email newsletters, attend your events, or listen to your podcasts. Your promise is to give them news they can’t get anywhere else. This is the familiar media model. Your challenge is building that audience, and getting them to financially support you. You likely will seek donations or offer membership. Businesses in your geographic or topical area will sponsor or underwrite your coverage. Most local news is done this way, building its own audience, just as a radio station or newspaper might.
A different approach might be better if your goal is to do expert, often specialized reporting. It might be covering health care in your state, water issues, the statehouse, investigative news. With narrow topics or beats, or less frequent stories that take longer to report, it may be challenging to build a big enough direct audience, so you are likely to provide your reporting to other publications or broadcasters that already have built an audience. We sometimes call this a studio model, comparing it to the Hollywood movie studios that create content distributed through other companies in the film industry.
Most nonprofits are hybrids or are trying both strategies. They try to leverage the audience of existing media and digital platforms to build awareness of their work and build a direct following over time. Or they have their own web presence but really do mostly project work for other media.
Whatever mix you decide on, we encourage you to think this through and anchor your business model in one strategy or the other, because it really affects the mix of how you can make money to support the journalism. If you have a direct local audience, your potential for major reader revenue is high. If you produce news that is carried mostly by other media, readers may not recognize your brand and you’re more likely to be successful with major donors and events, for example.
Deciding now on your basic strategy will help you make the most of the audience development and revenue model information in the next two chapters.