Bonus content from this year’s Index: ideas and resources for publishers
Two weeks ago, PINF published the 2023 Index of Independent News Publishing, our most comprehensive look at the indie news sector yet. In this follow-up post, deputy director Joe Mitchell points out some of the more detailed findings relating to publishers’ needs – and highlights potentially useful resources.
The 2023 Index of Independent News Publishing is full of quantitative data on the independent news sector, providing a clear picture of the average newsroom. This year, we also tried to feature more qualitative insights: in each section of the Index, from content to costs, you can read individual publishers’ own words about the opportunities and challenges they face.
Some of the qualitative data highlighted in the Index warranted more of a response than there was space for in the report. So, here’s some bonus content around the areas that seemed to be top of mind for publishers this year.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest need for help is in funding to support publishers’ financial sustainability. PINF doesn’t yet have a list of journalism funders in the UK – partly because the options seem so limited, but there is lots of general guidance on applying for grants and fundraising from NCVO and your local library probably has a copy of the DSC directory of funders. Google News Initiative has guidance on reader revenue, as does the Membership Puzzle Project.
PINF hopes to run a pilot matching programme later this year – where publishers would raise an amount that would be matched, doubling the value of reader donations – inspired by NewsMatch in the USA. We’re starting outreach to try to fill the match pot soon. Keep an eye on this blog for more.
A significant number of publishers reported that they are struggling to recruit and manage volunteers. When we asked Jon Cook, editor of A Little Bit of Stone, about the issue, he suggested that were a range of things that might be useful to publishers, especially around legal issues, insurance cover and the mental health of volunteers. Happily, there’s an excellent range of guidance provided by NCVO, which includes information on insurance, welfare and much more. Their ‘investing in volunteers’ online tool asks 12 questions as part of a ‘basic health check on your volunteer practice’. If you try this, let us know if you find it useful.
For the more flat-hierarchy or cooperative-model end of things, resources collated by RadicalHR seem worth a look.
We’ll be doing much more on measuring and communicating impact – one of the top priorities coming out of last year’s Indie News Forum – including producing a collection of the best resources and inviting you to join a peer-learning cohort on the issue.
For now, one thing that stood out in the Index responses was that several of the best examples of impact came from readers writing to the publisher. Directly asking readers for such feedback would seem like a quick win: a survey linked from the website (or a QR code for print) could result in more stories about how your work has changed lives – providing vital evidence for why readers, advertisers or grantmakers should support the publication.
On a change of ownership
A small number of responses to the Index featured publishers’ founders or leaders thinking about stepping away from the newsroom.
For those looking to sell a for-profit newsroom that’s a going concern, there’s guidance on selling a business commercially as well as on the increasingly popular idea of converting to employee ownership – selling the business to employees.
There’s also the idea of converting to community ownership, which in the US has been called ‘exit to community’. There’s a US-centric introduction to 'e2c’ here. While the UK has lots of guidance for the community doing the buying (esp. resources around buying bricks-and-mortar pubs and shops), we’d be interested to learn about any guidance for the owners doing the ‘exit’.
For the individual leaders passing the baton, this list of principles and actions seems sensible. And for publishers that are no longer sustainable, NCVO has lots of information on the closure of non-profit organisations, much of which could be applied to community-centric newsrooms.
On an accelerator for newsrooms
To quote one respondent to the survey: “I'll say it until I'm blue in the face - I would bite someone's hand off for a US-style accelerator scheme for community/local news.”
It's not totally clear what accelerator scheme is being referred to here –perhaps theTiny Newsroom Collective in the USA, which helped to inspire the People’s Newsroom projectin the UK. A thriving news ecosystem will require a range of support infrastructure organisations, including incubators for initial startups to accelerators to help some of those startups become fixtures. One of our hopes for PINF is that we can provide that kind of accelerator programme (and we might take inspiration from this handy list of journalism accelerators around the world).
On saving money on technology
Several publishers are looking to see if they can save money on their tech spend, the highest spend area after staffing. The responses did not state exactly what areas of tech people are looking to cut costs on. If you do have specific products or areas you want to save money on, we’d love to learn more.
While there are significant discounts on lots of tech products for registered charities, these rarely extend to not-for-profits. Guidance meant for charities working on digital might be useful – Catalyst is worth a look for ‘taking a digital approach’ but doesn’t specify good value tech products.
If there were any other areas of the Index that stood out to you as something you have expertise in, or where you’ve benefited from a particularly useful resource, get in touch and we’ll update this post.
Later this summer – perhaps just in time for your summer holiday reading – PINF will be publishing two collections of the best resources we can find on impact and on community engagement. There will also be the opportunity to join a peer-learning cohort on each of those themes, planned for September. Keep an eye on this blog for more.
The future of the Index
Lastly, we’re keen to hear about your views on the Index. What research is most useful to you? What do you want to learn about indie newsrooms in the UK? Are more case studies helpful? More benchmarking opportunities? Please do take this very short survey, ideally before Weds 14 June.