The US is a great source of inspiration when it comes to local news. In this new podcast series, we are taking a look at smart and experimental stateside newsrooms and their approaches to revenue models, audience engagement and newsgathering processes.
In this week's podcast, we turn our attention to The Seattle Times, the local news organisation based in the Pacific north-west of the country. In 2019, we covered how its investigative journalism fund encourages the public, from average readers to wealthy philanthropists, to support their journalism, remain independent and fund staff roles.
Since then, that fund has brought in $1.6m, funded six newsroom roles and is now seen as a mainstay in the company business model. But in those two years, The Seattle Times has also launched a $1m fund backed by Microsoft Philanthropies to expand local coverage, meaning they can afford three new reporters over a three-year period. If that was not enough, later in September, it will kickstart a mental health project with four new newsroom roles and that is made possible through $1.1m of funding from The Ballmer Group.
Kati Erwert, the senior vice-president of product, marketing and public service, and Kristin Dizon, the director of development and community-funded journalism, join us to discuss how they pull off initiatives like this, including the very practical conversations and considerations around donors.
Models like this are the envy of the UK news industry. The Cairncross Review in 2019 recommended giving a charitable status to public interest journalism outlets which would lead to tax breaks and be a catalyst for philanthropic funding. The UK government responded to the review and these recommendations by saying "the current Charities Act system accommodates appropriate options for public interest news."
It is completely possible (just very hard) for UK news organisations to register as a charity under existing law. A few examples include The Conversation, an online news and analysis commentary website with articles written by the academic and research community, and the Burngreave Messenger, an independent community newspaper in Sheffield, both being registered charities. Other news industry-adjacent companies are also setting up charitable foundations to widen their scope of wealthy funders.
The conversation around philanthropy is only gathering pace as more news industry reports call on policymakers and philanthropists to "support initiatives to transfer learning from the US non-profit news sector to the UK independent news sector." Tune in to find out how this revenue source is helping US local news to thrive.
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