January 22, 2016

INN Announces 15 Winners in Fourth Round of INNovation Fund

Los Angeles, Jan. 22, 2016 — The Institute for Nonprofit News is proud to announce 15 grantees of the INNovation Fund program. They represent $416,000 in projects that test new ways of funding and distributing great journalism and engaging people around news and public issues.

With the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the INNovation Fund was established in 2014 to spur business innovation and experimentation focused on audience engagement and long-term sustainability in nonprofit newsrooms.

“From ‘listening posts’ in neighborhoods that see little news coverage to new business ventures that can support groundbreaking investigations, these winning INNovation Fund projects show the breadth of innovation driving growth in nonprofit, public service news media,” said Sue Cross, CEO and executive director of INN.

This round of grants was bolstered by an additional $200,000 from the Democracy Fund, nearly doubling the number of grants INN is awarding. With this round, the INNovation Fund has now made more than $1.1 million in grants to fund 39 projects.

"We are deeply appreciative of the support from Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund,” said Brant Houston, chair of INN's board. “These are crucial grants for INN members and non-profit newsrooms as they explore entrepreneurial ways to sustain their public service reporting.”

The 15 winners were chosen from more than 70 proposals. Winning projects range from data journalism events to neighborhood-level engagement and sponsored content, all with the aim to increase revenue, audience reach and engagement. The maximum award is $35,000.

“The INNovation Fund continues to help fill critical gaps in local news, investigative reporting and public media," said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “The winning projects have the potential to advance new innovations in storytelling and audience engagement that can be shared with the entire field.”

The ideas and learnings from all four rounds are shared across the nonprofit news sector through training, best practices primers, shared budgeting and project detail, and similar exchanges.

"We are thrilled that the INNovation Fund program generated significant interest and a variety of strong entries,” said Tom Glaisyer, program director for the Democracy Fund. “The winning projects demonstrate the range of ways the nonprofit sector is developing sustainability and accelerating innovation across media, technology and engagement. We’re looking forward to seeing what these projects yield, both in terms of real-life impact and learning."

Winning project proposals from this and previous rounds are available at innovation.inn.org. The 15 fourth-round winners are:

  • Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University (Cronkite News and Arizona PBS): $10,000 to test and analyze which types of audiences are most likely to contribute to student media and state news services and whether crowdfunding is a viable ongoing revenue source for student-based media. Applicable to many “teaching hospital” journalism programs producing community news.
  • Bitch Media: $15,000 to test whether giving audience members tools to suggest and engage with news coverage increases the rate at which occasional users convert to sustaining members and increase their financial support of news coverage. Testers will use Hearken, a digital tool that enables people to submit or vote on questions they would like the organization to address.
  • Capital of Texas Media Foundation (Austin Monitor): $10,000 to create a map-based tool enabling Monitor readers to see current and archival news content by neighborhood, testing new audience engagement approaches and ways to draw new value from news archives.
  • inewsource: $11,000 to create an individual donor communications kit. The project will include development of protocols and campaign materials to strengthen donor affinity and increase the conversion of occasional donors and event attendees into major, ongoing contributors.
  • Mother Jones: $35,000 to design and test options for optimal use of the Facebook Instant Articles platform. Mother Jones will design and test editorial uses and membership/donor asks on the platform that can be adapted by other nonprofit news publishers.
  • New England Center for Investigative Reporting: $35,000 to host a series of events to provide citizens with the tools to find and describe earmarked funds within government budgets, and to share findings with each other in real time and with the wider public via a standalone website. This builds on a pilot that showed substantial results in audience engagement.
  • New Mexico In-Depth: $30,000 to develop an ongoing program for direct contact with communities, making it easier for New Mexicans to engage with public policy and building a sponsorship program to support the outreach.
  • Oklahoma Watch: $30,000 to develop sponsored content through a video series interviewing newsmakers with personal stories related to important state issues. The project tackles a common issue for investigative publications in developing sponsor-friendly content that is compatible with an investigative focus.
  • San Francisco Public Press: $35,000 to build on the successes of its direct public outreach programs. The Public Press will apply community organizing and influencer marketing approaches and leverage relationships with leaders in community and local interest groups to build broader audiences and engagement.
  • The Listening Post (partnering with Georgia Public Broadcasting): $35,000 to apply rigorous monitoring and evaluation to the Listening Post model of engaging new audiences, supporting new sponsorship and underwriting opportunities, and activating new audiences. The project ultimately tests how the model could scale to other cities and newsrooms.
  • The Marshall Project: $25,000 to build a content and community hub that enables high school teachers to integrate criminal justice news into the classroom. The project tests whether building a niche community will help engage and retain a younger and atypical audience and can generate new revenue streams around the curriculum and services.
  • The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting: $35,000 to build a database application bringing together information from several sources about agricultural companies and test the “freemium” model for generating revenue by offering accessible data sets and related content.
  • Tucson Sentinel: $35,000 for the “View from/Vista de” project that offers neighborhood-level engagement and sponsorship options through unique blogs, community calendars, newsletters and other neighborhood news created by citizens.
  • VoiceofOC: $35,000 to explore engagement as marketing by working with activist communities to develop op-ed civic content from neighborhoods, ultimately building a larger donor base and broadening its audience.
  • VtDigger: $35,000 to test the value of underwriting and sponsorship around a branded podcast covering state and political issues. The project aims to secure and build on current underwriting by creating premium options and broadening sponsorships from web banner advertising to other formats and platforms, and it demonstrates ways to build a cohesive business and editorial model around a distinct editorial talent.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

About the Democracy Fund

The Democracy Fund invests in organizations working to ensure that our political system is responsive to the public and able to meet the greatest challenges facing our nation. For more information, visit www.democracyfund.org or follow on Twitter @democracyfund.

About the Institute for Nonprofit News

The Institute for Nonprofit News (formerly the Investigative News Network) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization dedicated to advancing excellence and sustainability in nonprofit investigative and public service newsrooms. For more, visit www.INN.org or follow us on Twitter @INN.

Media contacts:

Institute for Nonprofit News

Sue Cross


Knight Foundation

Anusha Alikhan


Democracy Fund

Jessica Harris