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Knight investment in INN will catalyze the growth of nonprofit news

September 19, 2022

The John S. and James L. Knight foundation will invest $4.75 million over the next three years to catalyze the growth of the INN Network of nonprofit news outlets, which provide journalism as a public service.

The Institute for Nonprofit News will use the funds to help the network expand from more than 400 newsrooms to at least 600 by 2026 and grow revenue from more than $400 million to $1 billion annually, in support of strong, independent reporting. The INN Network is already one of the largest reporting alliances in the country, measured by its collective number of journalists.

“This is an investment in the future of news,” said Marcia Parker, chair of the INN board of directors and vice president, philanthropic partnerships at the New York Times. “Knight leads funders who know how important independent journalism is to their communities and to our democracy.” 

With the Knight investment, INN will aid members in building philanthropic and earned revenue, catalyzing their financial growth. INN also will help members expand their audiences, advance leaders of color attract new business and editorial talent to the growing field. 

The grant will also support journalistic collaborations among INN members that leverage the network’s scale and help individual outlets expand the reach and impact of their reporting, as well as their financial base. 

“INN is committed to multiplying every dollar of this funding from Knight into greater growth for our members, providing services that allow them to invest even more in great reporting and building new models of community support for journalism,” said Sue Cross, INN’s executive director and CEO. 

More than 5,000 people now work in nonprofit news, including about 3,000 journalists. That is nearing the size of the nation’s largest newspaper group, Gannett-Gatehouse, which reported 4,000 journalists in 2020 and has made additional rounds of cuts since. 

“INN provides strategic support for the growth of nonprofit news, which is starting to fill some of the holes left by the collapse of the newspaper industry, while also serving communities that never previously received the type of coverage they deserve,” said Karen Rundlet, Knight Foundation journalism officer.

Indeed, Knight leads a growing cohort of national foundations, community foundations and local philanthropists who recognize investing in nonprofit news as a successful systems solution to reinventing news, a way to broadly fund local news and the kind of nonpartisan, in-depth reporting that can counter misinformation.

The growth in funding is nonetheless a fraction of what the field needs to make up for the decline of commercial news media and to move toward a reinvention of public service journalism that is more inclusive and reachable. Nationwide, newspaper newsrooms have shed more than half their staff in the past two decades, or about 40,000 jobs, and digital news jobs have only partly made up for the decline. Even in the heyday of newspapers, many communities were left out or misrepresented in news coverage.

“When national funders like Knight Foundation invest in independent journalism, it sends a powerful signal that inspires other philanthropic, corporate and individual support of nonprofit news,” said Courtney Lewis, INN’s chief of growth programs. “Our job is to leverage these investments to multiply support for newsrooms around the country.”

Programs supported by this grant will:

INN was founded with 27 investigative news outlets in 2009. Today, more than 400 nonprofit news outlets belong to the INN Network, such as Canopy Atlanta, City Bureau in Chicago, El Timpano in Oakland, Calif., Futuro Media nationally, Mississippi Today, ProPublica, Sahan Journal in Minneapolis, Minn., and the Texas Tribune.  

In 2021, INN’s core group of 277 digital-first, independent publishers brought in $400 million in revenue, up from $300 – $350 million to $350 million the previous year. INN aims to help members raise the total to $1 billion across the network by 2026.  

The network’s impact has been immense. Finalists for the 2022 Nonprofit News Awards range from the tiny Asheville Watchdog, which exposed a scheme where many elderly, African American homeowners in North Carolina had been tricked into giving up their homes, to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which brought together more than 600 journalists in 177 countries and territories to collaborate on the Pandora Papers leak, and shed light on the shadowy world of tax avoidance and evasion frequented by many international leaders. The award winners will be announced Sept. 21.

“Collaboration multiplies impact exponentially,” said Jonathan Kealing, INN’s chief network officer. “Nonprofit news outlets exist to deliver impact that serves the public, so they embrace working together on investigations. The Knight support will allow us to ramp up collaboration, and do it in a way that will make network members stronger in business terms as well.”

The INN Network directly serves the public, primarily with digital news and newsletters, most free of paywalls so coverage is free to anyone regardless of ability to pay. The Network also shares its reporting with more than 7,000 other news media outlets and platforms, creating a new ecosystem of news and ensuring nonprofit news reporting is available in some form to virtually all North Americans.

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