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SXSW: Tips for Nonprofit News Groups

By Amy Sample Ward - March 12, 2013

As for-profit news organizations struggle to maintain previous levels of reporting, nonprofit news gathers are proliferating to fill the gap in coverage. “These new nonprofit media outlets are experiencing the same problems that longtime nonprofit publications such as The Texas Observer have been tackling for years,” said Cherilyn Parsons, director of development and strategic initiatives at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Parsons, Jonathan McNamara, web editor at The Texas Observer, Meghann Farnsworth, senior manager of distribution and online engagement at the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Tanya Erlach, the director of The Texas Tribune Festival at The Texas Tribune, co-presented at SXSW Interactive this weekend. They shared their tips and lessons from the field of nonprofit journalism during the annual Austin, Texas event.

From Farnsworth’s perspective, “exclusivity is dead.” News organizations and even independent journalists need to help localize news stories by highlighting resources or stories from the local area that provide a new lens on larger issues. Farnsworth asked, “Do you have data? Can you create data for news organizations that have a small news room and get it to them regularly?”

Erlach, from her experience managing The Festival, said she hears many nonprofits explain that, “events are too expensive for nonprofits.” In her opinion, the solution is sponsorships. She shared that it takes $15,000 to put on an event but they make $150,000 in revenue from it, with sponsorships as a critical component. “Sponsors want to interact directly with your community,” she said.

The event doesn’t have to stay inside the walls of your venue, either. Erlach said, “We film all of our events with video and audio and then repurpose content on the website, and sponsors also love to be associated with that long-term content.”

Erlach suggests taking advantage of partnerships with universities for expertise in event management and coordination, as well as the opportunity to expand your event to their community. “What if no one shows up? Compelling content is important. Big names are great,” Erlach said.

“Journalism today is like a Tibetan ferry. How do you not feel like a beggar?,” said Parsons. “There are lots of books and databases about getting funding for journalism, but you don’t want to waste your time on grant applications or events that don’t pay off. One grant proposal that is networked and planned well is better than many that aren’t.”

Parsons offered the tip that “funding is matchmaking: Find the individuals and organizations that care about the same things and have a shared purpose.” It’s best to do your research and really find potential funders that are interested and invested in the issues you are before you spend time working on grant proposals. “Don’t just network, ‘listen — meet people, go to event, et cetera,” she said.

She explained that very rarely could you reuse a grant proposal because each is unique to the specific funder, but the angles on journalism vary by the sides of the issue funders care about.

To get more tips or listen to the Q&A session from this event, visit: https://soundcloud.com/officialsxsw/nonprofit-journalism-survival

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