From the Index: 
Philanthropy can unlock innovation in public interest news

Our seventh excerpt from the Public Interest News Foundation’s Index of Independent News Publishing 2021. 

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  • 25% of our independent publishers’ revenue comes from grants, compared to 47% of US non-profit publishers’ revenue. 

  • 33% of our independent publishers’ revenue comes from advertising, compared to only 14% of US non-profit publishers’ revenue. 

  • 75% of our independent publishers provide general news, compared to 29% of US non-profit publishers, whilst only 5% of our independent publishers focus on investigative journalism, compared to 33% of US non-profit publishers. 

The PINF Index is modelled on the annual INN Index, which was launched in the US in 2018 by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN). The two surveys cover slightly different ground: the INN Index surveys only non-profit publishers whilst the PINF Index is open to both for-profit and non-profit publishers. However, we asked similar questions in a similar period in early 2021 and there are valuable lessons to be drawn from the comparison.

 

A far greater proportion of the funding of non-profit publishers in the US survey comes from philanthropists. This enables them to focus on non-commercial forms of news such as investigative journalism, whereas their UK equivalents in our survey – both non-profits and for-profits – are more dependent on advertising revenue, and more likely to publish general and national news.  

 

Grants make up a declining proportion of the overall revenue mix of the US non-profit news publishers: in 2018, grant-funding made up 57% of their revenue, but this proportion has fallen steadily since then as other revenue streams have taken its place. 

The message is clear: the strong culture of journalism philanthropy in the US has helped to build a news publishing sector which is both covering issues that are not covered by other media and developing diverse and sustainable revenue streams. Philanthropy is not a substitute to the market, or a ‘sticking plaster’ that creates dependent organisations; it is a complement to the market, which can provide a long-term cure for the ills that are affecting public interest news around the world. 

Recommendation 

We recommend that policymakers and philanthropists in the UK support initiatives to transfer learning from the US non-profit news sector to the UK independent news sector. 

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This post is an excerpt from the Public Interest News Foundation’s Index of Independent News Publishing 2021. The Index 2021 is the first in a planned series of annual surveys. We’re keen to hear your feedback, such as suggestions for further research over the years to come. 

Authors: Dr Clare Cook, Dr Jonathan Heawood, Dr Coral Milburn-Curtis and Joe Mitchell.  

 

With thanks to the 56 publishers who took part in the survey. For more on the survey methodology, please see the full report.