2022 INN Index Fact Sheet: State and Regional News
By Michele McLellan, Jesse Holcomb and Emily Roseman
Oct. 5, 2022
Definition: State news outlets primarily focus on government policy, politics or topics of public interest such as health or the environment within a single state. Regional news outlets focus on a geographic area larger than a single state such as a cluster of several Midwest states or a region that encompasses parts of more than one state. There are 59 state and 24 regional organizations in this study, making up 21% and 8% of the nonprofit news field in terms of number of outlets, respectively.
State and regional outlets have grown steadily in number for more than a decade. Taken together, they now provide coverage of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. For the most part they are spread evenly across five major regions of the United States.
Growth: State and regional news outlets began to fill significant gaps in news and information about politics and government policy in the wake of severe cutbacks by legacy news media more than a decade ago. There were fewer than a dozen of these nonprofit organizations when the 2008 recession hit. Within the next two years, 19 state and regional outlets in this study launched. State and regional outlets experienced another growth spurt starting in 2015, with a total of 45 startups over seven years. Three more outlets launched in 2021.
Mission & Impact: Nearly half of state and regional outlets primarily focus on in-depth, investigative reporting, with explanatory journalism emerging as another common focus. State and regional publishers cite revealing or preventing corruption or abuse of power, prompting governmental or institutional action, and building knowledge of a complicated issue as their top impact goals.
They tend to cover a limited number of topics, such as environment, education and health, often under an umbrella of public policy or a broader range of news topics.
Some 85% of these outlets employ at least one investigative journalist and three-quarters (74%) employ two or more. The median number of investigative journalists per outlet is 3. This group produced nearly 4,300 public records requests in 2021, accounting for nearly one-fifth of total FOIA requests pulled during the year.
As a group, these outlets have enjoyed a balanced revenue mix. However, like the rest of the field, they struggled to maintain earned revenue such as advertising and sponsorship during the COVID-19 crisis, and their share of total revenue derived from foundations appears to have increased in 2021.
Total revenue: State and regional organizations tend to run lean operations. A majority operate on less than $500,000 in annual revenue, including well over one-third that take in less than $250,000. Median revenue in 2021 was $377,000, about the same as the year before.
Revenue mix: State and regional outlets derive a greater share of their revenue from individual giving than the rest of the field, which in the past enabled them to be less reliant on foundation funding. The share of donations held steady at 38% in 2021. However, reliance on foundation grants was higher than in 2020 (48% compared with 41%) while the share of earned revenue, a smaller source overall, declined from 20% to 12%.
Revenue outlook: Many state outlets are well positioned to tap sponsorship revenue from institutional sources such as universities, hospitals and corporations that have an interest in the policy issues they cover. At the same time, state and regional outlets in less populous areas may face challenges in raising earned revenue from within their coverage area.
Three in 10 employees are people of color in this group, significantly lower than among local and national/global outlets.
Levels of diversity vary across this group, and a significant number of these organizations have little or no staff diversity. About a third of these outlets have no employees of color.
The median FTE per outlet in this group is 6 and the number of FTEs per organization ranges from 0 to 79.
Audience & Distribution
State and regional outlets are more likely than the rest of the field to target rural audiences. Four in 10 say they do so and these account for half of the total of 66 nonprofits of any geographic scope that target rural communities. Four in 10 state and regional outlets also say elected officials and policy makers are a key target audience.
Examples: Outlets that target rural audiences include 100 Days in Appalachia, a regional outlet state based in Morgantown, West Virginia, and VTDigger, a state outlet based in Vermont.
Just over one-fifth of state and regional outlets say serving communities of color is a primary focus, about the same share as national/global but lower than local (31%). Examples: Sahan Journal in St. Paul, Minnesota and Amjambo Africa in Portland, Maine, each primarily focused on serving communities of color.
State and regional outlets take a mixed approach to reaching audiences. Having established their value and visibility by allowing their content to be published on third-party platforms, many now seek to expand the audience they reach directly via their own websites or newsletters.
More than half of these outlets say they primarily reach their audiences directly. But third-party distribution remains an important channel for this group – 3 in 10 outlets reach most of their audience through partner publications. State and regional publishers are also much more likely than their counterparts to say third-party publication is highly important to their organization.
As a group, state and regional outlets estimate their work was carried regularly by nearly 3,400 third-party publications, of which 6 in 10 were newspapers. The median number of publication partners per outlet was 13, which is higher than local or national/global outlets.