What are your questions about becoming a member? Here are some answers that may be helpful to our most commonly-heard questions:
Becoming a member of INN means joining a community of nonprofit organizations building new models for journalism and sharing common challenges. All 240+ members produce or support journalism in the public interest, and INN is the only organization dedicated to growing and supporting the field of nonprofit news media.
Members get access to specialized professional capacity-building and coaching in revenue generation, nonprofit leadership and audience development, guidance on ethical issues and a rich community of mentors, peer advisors and quick advice in this fast-changing field. Members also enjoy a number of cost-saving services offered by INN and fellow members, including access to charity registration discounts, media insurance, and technology support. Check out INN’s Resources section for more information.
INN Index enables members to benchmark their own practices and performance against industry statistics, and INN partners with many other organizations to provide both editorial and business programs tailored to nonprofit newsrooms.
First, check out INN’s guide to applying for membership. INN’s membership standards are designed to meet best practices in journalism and support public trust in independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news. The FAQs below also have more information on common questions. If those don’t clear it up, reach out to INN’s membership coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions and sign up for INN’s bi-weekly membership info sessions.
We strongly discourage organizations from changing their missions to fit in with INN standards. (Yes, it has happened!) Organization missions should be oriented around the needs in the communities they serve and what the community will support.
INN requires all members to have editorial independence policies.
At a time when news media can play an important role in building common ground in our society, the openness around nonprofit news is an important way to support trust and civic engagement. As public service organizations, INN member news organizations are committed to serving only the public — not funders, contributors or any special interests. Editorial independence means that as a reader, listener or viewer, members of the public know editorial coverage has no cause other than informing them. And funders know up front that while their support is treasured, they don’t get to shape news coverage, story selection or other editorial decisions.
INN is a network of independent newsrooms. Members generally have their own 501c3 designation. If fiscally sponsored, they must have editorial, programmatic and operational independence from their fiscal sponsor.
That means donations to the news organization and the parent nonprofit must be kept separate; the sponsor cannot have any program oversight of the news organization, and the news organization must have an editorial independence policy that ensures its parent organization has no input on editorial decisions or content. INN recommends that fiscally sponsored news projects have their own advisory boards.
INN generally does not accept as members: B Corporations, 501c4 nonprofits, or staff publications of any nonprofit that has a mission other than journalism, such as museum magazines, publications produced by think tanks, associations or advocacy organizations.
Regular membership is for organizations that primarily focus on producing original news reporting. Affiliate membership is for journalism support organizations that are active in building nonprofit newsrooms or that don’t quite fit regular membership standards but would be a valued part of the community. All INN members, regardless of membership type, are expected to comply with INN’s standards for editorial independence and financial transparency.
Affiliate membership is open to organizations that advance public-service journalism and align with INN’s mission, but for which producing journalism for the public may not be organization’s sole mission.
Affiliate members receive access to the network and most of its resources. Affiliate[s] do not vote on bylaws or elections to the INN Board of Directors, nor can they run for the INN board. Affiliates and non-publishing members of INN do not qualify for NewsMatch under the current terms of that program, which are set by the sponsoring foundations. Please note that INN does not accept cause communications or trade publications even if content is produced using journalism techniques.
At a time when news media can play an important role in building common ground in our society, the openness around nonprofit news is an important way to support trust and civic engagement.
Over the last several years, The Trust Project researched what consumers considered when deciding whether to believe a news item or source. The project found that knowing the organization’s funders was an important factor in what consumers saw as part of understanding if a news outlet had an “agenda” and could be trusted. The trust that transparent newsrooms build with the people they serve is one of the greatest benefits and advantages of nonprofit news media, and a best practice that INN believes supports democracy and civic engagement.
INN and its member newsrooms are committed to building public trust by following a best practice guideline that recommends making public the names of all individual and corporate funders of $5,000 and above and ensuring that anonymous donations do not provide a material part of a news site’s revenue. Exceptions are carefully considered. The goals are to ensure journalism remains editorially independent and that the public can trust that nonprofit news sites are not dependent on or shaped by high levels of anonymous funding.
News organizations have flexibility in how they identify donors. Some list all donors on their sites, some link to IRS 990 tax forms that listing a nonprofit’s donors.
For newsrooms that are part of larger public media corporations or universities that may routinely accept anonymous donors, INN asks these members to affirm that anonymous donations earmarked for news or the news program do not surpass these guidelines even if anonymous funding is accepted for non-news programs.
The Solutions Journalism Network itself is a member, and many INN members do reporting that falls under the four principles outlined by SJN:
That said, INN from time to time receives applications from organizations seeking to advocate for, promote or selectively lift public awareness of certain people, organizations or approaches. Sometimes these organizations promote themselves under the mantle of solutions journalism. Those generally do not qualify if they do not demonstrate rigorous reporting, the reporting doesn’t fit into SJN’s guidelines or if they are closer to cause communications than independent reporting. Cause communications intended to promote or advance a certain approach or perspective serve a different purpose and have a mission that generally extends beyond the standards of INN membership.
Yes, you are always welcome to apply again if your organization has updated and meets membership requirements. We talk with virtually all applicants and anyone whose application was declined is notified about the factors considered.
Members renew membership every year.
INN offers a number of resources for individuals hoping to launch nonprofit news outlets in their communities. Membership is not required to access startup support. INN encourages prospective publishers to tap into these resources before applying for membership.
A few startup resources you can access without being a member:
Most members are accepted after they have a track record of news coverage. INN accepts a small number of qualifying news startups, led by established journalists, as provisional members for up to one year before organization launch. However, INN typically recommends applying for membership after an organization launches.
All applications go to the INN Board of Directors for review, about once a quarter. So you usually hear back within 3-4 months. Membership applications peak in the spring and summer, so approvals can take longer at mid-year, if there are questions about your applications, or your news organization is out of the ordinary. (Though we’re first to say, ALL of our members are extraordinary!)
INN serves North America and is open to members in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. If you are in another country and see a need there for INN services, would you please share your experience with us and let us know what would be useful for you? That may help us refer you to other resources or look at programing in the future for added regions. Email Executive Director Sue Cross, Sue@INN.org.
Organizations that are not yet 501(c)3 federally recognized nonprofits can secure the services of a 501(c)3 organization in order to ensure that they are operating within the accepted guidelines for nonprofits and in order to accept grants on behalf of a project. INN offers fiscal sponsorship to a select number of applicants that do not yet have either their own nonprofit determination letter from the IRS or a fiscal sponsor but which otherwise meet the criteria for membership.
INN offers affiliate membership to some qualifying for-profit enterprises on a case-by-case basis as long as the company’s mission otherwise aligns with INN standards. We encourage you to inquire with us before applying at email@example.com.