From the very start of my involvement with The Patterson Foundation, CEO Debra Jacobs was clear about what our role would be in helping to build journalism’s future.
We would not be a long-term journalism funder, like The Knight Foundation or Ethics and Excellence in Journalism. We would measure our involvement not in decades but in a handful of years. We would focus not on sustaining funding but on providing an accelerant to innovation and problem-solving efforts.
We would aim to work in the spaces, focusing on worthy ideas and communities that hadn’t yet attracted very much attention. Finally, we would consider ourselves successful if we were able to incubate techniques, tools or approaches that could feed into the work of those long-term funders, extending the impact of our small contributions beyond the life of our own involvement.
In the last week, we saw one of our signature efforts in the New Media Journalism Initiative achieve that very success we had hoped for when we began our work almost three years ago.
The Knight Foundation is funding a program called CJET that builds off the work we’ve been doing during the last year with our partners at Knight Digital Media Center in our Super Camp mentoring program for independent community news publishers. Through Super Camp, we provided 12 publishers with a three-day deep dive into business practices and analytics; then we matched those publishers with a business mentor, who has worked with them over the course of the last year to implement what they learned.
CJET stands for Community Journalism Executive Training. The three-day program will be built under the auspices of the Investigative News Network in partnership with our friends at KDMC; it will offer 40 entrepreneurial news publishers guidance from a group of business mentors to help them focus on the skills necessary to build sustainable operations. The group will meet at KDMC in Los Angeles in October.
The CJET program reflects our values of collaboration at The Patterson Foundation in so many ways it takes both hands to count them:
- It is built on the bones of our own experiment in business mentoring. Almost two years ago, after we helped enable community news publishers to come together at the Block by Block Community News Summit, I started thinking about what else we could do to help this community. I knew from listening to these publishers at Block by Block that financial sustainability was the most important issue facing them, and started thinking about how we could experiment with deep training to help them.
- I talked – a lot – with Michele McLellan, whose research as a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute led to Block by Block. Together, we talked with Vikki Porter, the executive director of KDMC. Vikki’s deep knowledge about the right ways to provide a successful learning environment for journalists was vital to the next phase.
- We decided that, for us to really understand how best to help with business sustainability, we had to make a longer commitment than a weekend of training in a hotel conference room. We needed to really mentor a group of publishers, both to provide the runway they needed to achieve results and to give us the depth of understanding we needed to figure out what kinds of skills the publishers most needed help developing.
- We brought in TPF’s Technology Lens Manager, Rusty Coats, to develop the curriculum and recruit the mentors. Rusty has served as the “mentor wrangler’’ during the last nine months, working with our three business mentors to shape their coaching and apply the individual lessons they’ve learned to the larger group. He’s also applied his deep knowledge of digital business strategy to the process.
- The mentors we’ve worked with – Joe Michaud, Emily Lowrey and Eleanor Cippel – have tackled the task with a zeal and commitment that exceeded our wildest expectations. They’ve been generous with their own knowledge of smart business practices. They’ve spent hours on the phone, and in site visits, getting to know the needs of the publishers and providing them with coaching, a little therapy and a ready-made cheering section when they succeeded.
- We started to see the promise in this approach almost right away. Vikki Porter connected us to the folks at INN because she saw that our work with community entrepreneurial publishers had implications for the start-up investigative publishers as well.
- INN’s Executive Director Kevin Davis had a proposal of his own for business development for his membership, but he immediately saw the advantage of combining efforts and building off the work we’d already started.
- Kevin partnered with us at TPF to bring together representatives of journalism funders and a group of publishers representing both the community and investigative sites here in Sarasota in February. This summit was remarkable in that it put those who provide grants in the room with those who request them for an open conversation about what is working, what’s not and where the gaps exist in building a sustainability strategy for independent publishers.
- Out of this sustainability conversation, Kevin refined a proposal for a business mentoring program. The Knight Foundation was intrigued, and agreed to fund what is now known as CJET – a gathering of 40 publishers and 10 mentors to work intensely for three days on the issue of sustaining these sites.
- Best of all, from my perspective, CJET will bring together both investigative and community sites. While these publishers are distinctive in their approach to entrepreneurial journalism, they have many of the same challenges to their business models – whether non-profit or for-profit. They have a lot they can learn together, and a lot they can teach each other.
We’ll be helping Kevin and Vikki put together the curriculum for CJET, as well as providing them insight into what makes a good mentor and business coach.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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