Membership Standards

INN is a network of more than 150 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.

Just applying? Please review the requirements below before you fill out an application.

      • Full membership is for U.S.-based, actively publishing news organizations.
      • Provisional membership is available to qualifying startups that want to join before they begin publishing and for full members who cease publishing for up to one year.
      • Associate membership is for organizations that support nonprofit news and align with INN’s mission in working to advance this type of journalism, but may not be publishers or fit regular membership qualifications.

Full membership

Full or regular INN 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 public affairs coverage. INN generally does not accept as regular members publications that primarily publish opinion, analysis or curated collections unless they also include substantial original reporting of their own.
      • Apply high journalistic standards for accuracy and fairness in order to prevent conflicts of interest that could compromise the integrity of the work.
      • Maintain editorial independence. INN members produce nonpartisan reporting that is not based upon, influenced by or supportive of the interests or policies of any single political party or political viewpoint or any single religion or religious viewpoint. INN members do not advocate for public policy or legislative actions, though policy or legislative changes may be a consequence of their reporting.
      • Lobby only for freedom of information and freedom of press issues.
      • Report for the general public. Campus or student publications generally do not qualify for INN membership unless they are primarily covering general news for a non-campus audience in partnership with professional news organizations.
      • Are 501(c)(3) certified by the Internal Revenue Service or have a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fiscal sponsor. INN provides fiscal sponsorship for qualifying journalism nonprofits, enabling them to remain independent of any potential or perceived conflicts of interest with community or other sponsoring organizations.

Editorial Independence & Donor Transparency

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. These must specify what kind of funding the publication will and won’t accept.

As an INN member, a publication agrees to:

      • Identify online all donors to the organization that give more than $5,000 in a year by publicly listing them directly 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 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 its sponsor’s 990.
      • Ensure that no more than 5 percent of its total annual budget shall derive from anonymous donations.
      • Post an editorial independence policy.

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 also are invited to adopt INN's standards of editorial independence and share that with donors. You can find the editorial independence and samples of these other types of policies on our Ethics & Practices page.

Members and prospective members who accept anonymous donations of more than $5000 per individual or comprising more than 5 percent of their total revenue should write an explanation of the situation to the INN board via email to INN Executive Director Sue Cross at sue@inn.org. These situations are reviewed periodically by an INN board task force on membership qualification.

Prospective members must apply for membership and include an explanation of any variance from these standards with their application; the board will review at its next task force meeting. 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.

Provisional Membership for Startups

Provisional membership is available to publications for up to one year before launch of publication if they:

      • Include with their application a publication or strategic plan that indicates they will meet membership requirements once publication begins.
      • Meet INN requirements for editorial independence and transparency.
      • Are at a stage where they are actively fund-raising and/or producing content and have a launch date set.
      • Have filed for their 501(c)(3) status or an organization has agreed to fiscally sponsor them.

Associate Membership

INN is a network of nonprofit organizations producing original reporting of public service news for the general public.

Associate membership is available as of July 2018 to organizations that are not primarily news publishers, but advance nonprofit, public service journalism in other ways.

Associate membership also can be appropriate for organizations that do publish news, but for which publishing is only part of the organization’s broader mission, such as training student journalists, research or running another type of journalism trade or collaboration group, or raising public awareness of a specific issue or cause.

Associate members can participate in all network programs and benefit from INN services. Associate members do not vote on bylaws or elections to the INN Board of Directors, nor can they run for the INN board. Associate members do not qualify for NewsMatch 2018 or other INN grant programs designed to support independent news publishers.

Within these general guidelines, organizations may qualify for associate membership in INN if they meet any one or more of the following criteria and align with INN’s mission. The organization is:

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;

A center, cooperative, collaborative, research organization or journalism group that advances and supports nonprofit journalism organizations and public service news reporting as a part of its mission.

An organization producing independent, objective journalism that is part of an organization with a broader or non-journalism mission.

Please write to info@inn.org with any questions regarding membership standards or applications.