Editor's Note: Kevin Davis is the executive director of the Investigative News Network. The Patterson Foundation
By Kevin Davis, Executive Director, Investigative News Network and Janet Coats, New Media Journalism Initiative Consultant, The Patterson Foundation
It’s amazing what can be accomplished when two organizations with shared values work together. That has certainly been our experience in the collaborative work between the Investigative News Network and The Patterson Foundation. By working together, we’ve been able to build new paths for supporting independent news organizations that serve the public interest.
The ripples from our work extend in many directions. While the more than 90 members of INN have been the obvious beneficiaries, our joint work imagining a more collaborative approach to securing the financial sustainability of independent news organizations has touched entrepreneurial publishers and funders alike.
Two key words in that last sentence are reflective of the core values that brought INN and The Patterson Foundation together: collaboration and sustainability.
From the first, we recognized that each of our organizations was on a path to understand promising practices in building a future for independent news. INN was formed in 2009 with just this goal in mind, recognizing that as traditional news organizations diminished in both resources and influence, investigative journalism itself was too valuable to democracy to be allowed to decline.
The Patterson Foundation wanted to honor the source of its wealth: an entrepreneurial family that made strategic investments in communications and technology. We saw that same spirit reflected in the work of both non-profit and for-profit news independent news publishers who were starting their organizations to serve community and the public good.
Building paths toward sustainability through CJET
Both INN and TPF recognized that these publishers could possess all the good journalism skills and intentions in the world, but without securing their financial future, their work would surely fail. Working together, we built on a test program to provide intensive business training and, most importantly, ongoing mentoring to help these journalists develop the financial skills they would need to nourish their enterprises.
The Community Journalism Executive Training program, or CJET, is truly a reflection of our shared commitment to sustainability and collaboration. CJET itself is a powerful collaboration of those who support independent journalism: The Knight Foundation provided the bulk of the financial resources to enable the first CJET, with the Knight Digital Media Center and The Patterson Foundation supplying curriculum we had developed in the pilot program.
The results of CJET and its follow-up program, CJET Second Gear, have reinforced our strongly held belief that there is a path forward to sustainability for these organizations. Nine months after the CJET training, half of the publishers who participated had increased their revenues by 15 to 20 percent.
Beyond the numbers, participants told us just how seriously they took what they learned at CJET and how they’ve put it to use in their daily work. They understand what is at stake here: Finding a way to support serious journalism in our communities.
“We have to figure out this model if communities are going to have any local coverage at all. We’ve got to figure out the business model. And that is where we need the help, the investment, is in figuring it out,’’ CJET participant Teresa Wippel, publisher of My Edmonds News, told us in the program’s follow-up survey.
CJET represents the most verifiably successful program the Investigative News Network has undertaken to date. Not only do the survey data of participants demonstrate how each participant has tangibly benefited, but also the participants continue to cite CJET as instrumental to their sustainability planning and revenue growth.
Carrying the work forward
The ripples from this work continue. The Knight Foundation has cited the success of CJET as one reason for its continued investment in the work of INN. That investment includes the INNovation Fund, a recently announced program of micro-grants designed to encourage publishers to explore innovation and new revenue sources.
The $1 million fund will enable 30 projects across the country, a true laboratory for the very lessons CJET has been imparting to publishers. With the support of The Patterson Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund, we’re planning to launch a new CJET class this summer. And because entrepreneurial journalism isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, we’re in discussions to take CJET international as early as this fall.
This isn’t work that will be done in a day, but the results we’ve seen since our first CJET in October 2012 have been nothing short of inspirational – not just for us, but for publishers and our collaborative funders as well. All because two organizations, with shared values, decided to it was better to work together than to pursue our goals alone.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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