Guide to Applying for Membership

Members of the Institute for Nonprofit News are committed to financial transparency and editorial independence. INN was founded on these principles and we make sure every organization that applies for membership adheres to them. We know the standards are detailed and ask more of organizations than other journalism associations. We do this because editorial  independence and financial transparency are critical pillars of nonprofit journalism that aim to strengthen public trust in journalism. They help ensure that funders, partners and parent organizations will not influence a publication’s reporting. By becoming members of INN, organizations demonstrate that they follow industry-upheld standards. Failure to comply with standards will result in denial of membership.

Please go through this checklist before you apply. For a more detailed list, check out our standards. Exceptions to these standards are not granted, so if you expect any of these standards to be problematic for your organization, please consider whether membership in INN is a good fit for your organization. This guide is meant to help you get in compliance before you apply.

Questions we ask when we look at applications:

  • Is the organization publishing original content at least once a month? Original content vs. republishing content and press releases.
  • Is journalism the organization’s primary mission?
  • Is financial information posted on the site, including donors over $5,000? If any donors are posted as anonymous, at what level?
  • Does the publication appear to have a religious or political affiliation?
  • If owned by a parent company, does that company take policy positions or advocate? Is there financial separation and an editorial firewall between the parent company and publication?

CHECKLIST: Financial Transparency and Editorial Independence

  • Publish financial information to website in a place that readers can easily find, including:
    • All donors that give over $5,000
    • 990 filings, links to 990s, or equivalent budget, salary and donor information
    • Donor transparency policy (examples here)
    • Recommended: An explanation of how your organization is funded. For example, does funding come from sponsorships/advertising, grants, or memberships? What’s the mix?
  • Maintain editorial independence
    • Post an editorial independence policy. (We offer examples here and highly recommend modifying them for your organization’s unique position.)
    • Post disclosures of conflicts of interest, fiscal sponsor and/or parent organization relationships, or university partnerships, if applicable.

Recommendations

Financial & Business

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.

Create a financial information page on your organization’s website that includes your organization’s donors, tax status, annual reports, 990s and any related disclosures and/or policies. This page should be easy for readers to find from your website’s homepage.

Examples: Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, The Nevada Independent, Institute for Nonprofit News, Texas Tribune, The Ithaca Voice, Honolulu Civil Beat

Editorial

If you are an organization reporting on a specific industry and have some ties to it (through funding, leadership or partnerships), be sure to disclose those ties and consider creating more detailed editorial independence and ethics policies explaining the ways your organization remains independent from what it’s covering and/or its ownership.

Example: Energy News Network publicly posts a detailed code of ethics that specifies how it operates with its parent organization, Fresh Energy, as well as its funders and sources.

Also, if your journalism outlet is in any way related to a parent or sister organization that does non-journalism work, be sure to disclose the relationship on both sites. Make it clear that the two organizations are separate.

When in doubt, INN falls back on the editorial and financial guidelines of The Trust Project, Society of Professional Journalists, NewsGuard, and other journalism best practices. We recommend you do the same when it comes to producing fair, financially transparent journalism.

Questions about applying? We have information sessions every two weeks. Sign up here.