INN is a network of more than 230 nonprofit newsrooms producing journalism in the public interest. Members make up a highly collaborative network, sharing resources and often news coverage. To ensure high standards, they share and follow INN community guidelines for standards in ethics and transparency, and all produce high-quality original news reporting. INN members are reviewed and approved for membership by the INN board of directors.
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.
Full membership is open to organizations that:
- Demonstrate the capacity to regularly publish original reporting of high quality that is investigative or public service by nature, such as expert explanatory or community, civic and public affairs coverage. INN generally does not accept publications that primarily publish opinion, analysis, arts/cultural/community events, literary writing, reviews or curated collections of third-party material unless they include substantial original news reporting on an ongoing basis.
- Apply high journalistic standards for accuracy and fairness, including openly correcting errors and prominently labeling opinion, commentary and sponsored content.
- Maintain editorial and organizational independence. INN members do not advocate or operate in a way that promotes any legislation, policies, government action or outcomes, though policy or legislative changes may be a consequence of their reporting. Members avoid conflicts of interest that could compromise the integrity of the work. They lobby only for freedom of information and freedom of press issues.
- Outlets with strong points of view will be accepted on a case-by-case basis. They must produce original reporting that does not misrepresent facts, selectively choose sources or selectively publish stories in an attempt to advance a policy or cause. In other words, they report with impartiality, attempting to achieve fairness in content of distinct points of view with objectivity and dedication to truth.
- Report for the general public. Religious, campus or student publications generally do not qualify for INN membership unless they are primarily covering general news for a general audience and meet INN’s standards for editorial independence. Student publications covering general news also should have professional staff or be closely partnered with a professional organization to be considered.
Affiliate membership is available to organizations that:
- Are not primarily newsrooms, but advance nonprofit, public service journalism in other ways. For example, they might include:
- Journalism support organizations, such as a 501(c)3 public charity, private foundation or private operating foundation, association or membership organization that works to support and encourage nonprofit journalism in the public interest.
- An accredited university journalism or communications program that trains student journalists and/or researches news topics of public interest; an accredited university philanthropy, public affairs or business program that researches, trains students in or otherwise supports the financial health and civic benefit of investigative and public service journalism;
- Produce independent, nonpartisan journalism as part of a broader or non-journalism mission. For these organizations, publishing and/or broadcasting may be part of a broader mission such as research or raising public awareness of an issue, as long as the publication still has editorial and financial independence from any parent organization.
- INN generally does not accept as members: B Corporations, 501c4 nonprofits, or staff publications of nonprofits that have a mission other than journalism, such as museum magazines, publications produced by think tanks, associations or advocacy organizations. INN does not accept cause communications, corporate or trade outlets even if content is produced using journalism techniques.
Affiliate organizations may participate in most network programs and INN services. 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.
Most members are accepted after they have a track record of news coverage, and most publications should wait until they have launched to apply. News organizations in planning stages can participate in most INN programs even before they get membership. In special circumstances, provisional membership may be available to select qualifying news startups, led by established journalists, for up to one year before launch of publication. Publications seeking provisional membership should include with their application a publication or strategic plan that indicates they will meet membership requirements once publication begins, make sure they meet the following standards and have them in place before applying:
- Policies to meet INN requirements for editorial independence and transparency.
- A leadership team that includes journalists with proven professional records in news
- A board or pre-launch advisory board formed that can guide launch of a high-quality journalism organization
- Incorporation in their state
- 501(c)(3) status, an application that has been submitted for 501(c)3 status, or a fiscal sponsorship agreement that ensures organizational and editorial independence. See FAQs.
Editorial Independence & Transparency
Public trust in journalism is essential. To build and maintain trust, journalists and their organizations must be truthful, transparent and independent in their reporting in order to best serve the public.
All INN members share a commitment to transparency and by becoming members, agree to publish policies regarding fundraising, donations and conflict-of-interest on their websites, in an effort to maintain reader trust. These policies must specify what kind of funding the publication will and won’t accept.
As an INN member, a publication agrees to:
- Confirm its 501(c)(3) certified by the Internal Revenue Service or have a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fiscal sponsor. Canadian publications and those based at universities with a different IRS status are invited to consult with INN before applying. INN can provide fiscal sponsorship for qualifying journalism nonprofits that are starting up or converting to nonprofit from for-profits.
- Publish financial information publicly to a publication’s website and/or print product.
- Identify all donors to the organization that give more than $5,000 in a year by publicly listing them on the publication’s site and/or posting a link to 990 tax filings that identify donors of $5,000 or more.
- Post either full 990 filings, links to their 990, or equivalent budget, salary and donor information on its web site where consumers can access it. In the case of fiscally sponsored organizations, the member will post a link to its sponsor’s 990, and publish on its own site all funders of $5,000 and above.
- Ensure that no more than 5 percent of its total annual budget derives from anonymous donations.
- Post an editorial independence policy.
- If the publication has a fiscal sponsor or parent 501(c)3 organization, publicly disclose and explain how the news project maintains editorial independence from its fiscal sponsor or parent, and if or how donor funds are separated between the organizations.
INN encourages all members to adopt, publicize and share with donors and other relevant partners their policies on editorial independence, conflicts of interest, ethics and privacy. Members are welcome to adopt or adapt INN's standard of editorial independence and share that with donors. The editorial independence and samples of these other types of policies can be found on INN’s Ethics & Practices page.
Members and prospective members who accept anonymous donations of more than $5,000 per individual or comprising more than 5 percent of their total revenue are asked to write an explanation of the situation to the INN board via email to INN Executive Director Sue Cross at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email to set up a conversation with a board task force. These situations are reviewed periodically by an INN board task force on membership qualifications.
Prospective members applying for membership should include an explanation of any variance from these standards with their application for the board to review. INN may investigate, at its discretion, any complaints or any evidence that it discovers that would suggest that a member organization has violated membership standards and/or the membership agreement.