By Michele McLellan, Jesse Holcomb and Emily Roseman
Sept. 28, 2021
Definition: Single-topic outlets maintain a tight focus on and produce specialized reporting about one topic of public interest such as criminal justice, education, energy, environment, housing or religion. The 51 single topic outlets in this study vary in their geographic scope, although most are national in scope. We highlighted these outlets because they are distinct in their fundraising and audience reach.
TLDR: Single-topic organizations represent one-fifth of the nonprofit news field. This niche group has quadrupled in number since 2008, fueled in part by success in attracting foundation support.
Growth: From fewer than a dozen outlets when the nonprofit news boom began in 2008, the single-subject sector has expanded at an average rate of nearly three launches per year, accelerating with the launch of 11 organizations in 2018-19.
Mission: Most single-topic organizations produce analysis and explanatory reporting, to a greater extent than the field as a whole.
Total revenue: Nearly half of single-topic organizations generate revenue of more than $500,000, similar to the rest of the nonprofit news field, and the median revenue per outlet in 2020 was $480,400. Single-topic organizations take in 23% of nonprofit revenue while making up 22% of the field.
Revenue gains: More established organizations proved their staying power. Of 16 outlets that provided revenue data for 2017 in the first survey and for 2020 in the latest survey, 12 reported revenue increases and none reported a decline in revenue during that time.
Revenue mix: Single-topic organizations draw more than half of their revenue from foundations, a much higher share than the rest of the nonprofit news field. Since 2017, single-topic outlets have doubled the share of revenue from individual giving.
Revenue outlook: Grant support has been a bright spot for single-topic news organizations, which can tap foundations that are highly engaged in specific issues. Earned revenue, underdeveloped across the nonprofit news field, is especially underdeveloped among single-topic sites.
About one-third of all personnel across single-topic outlets are people of color. However only one in five executives is a person of color, which is low compared with the rest of the nonprofit news field. Most single-topic outlets operate with a small staff.
The median staff size (full-time equivalents for staff and significant contractors) is five, with the number of paid personnel ranging from 0 to 71.
Single-topic outlets reach 82% of their audience on their own platforms, higher direct reach than the field at large, in part because they can effectively define and target key audiences for their work. They are much less likely than the rest of the field to reach their audience through publication partnerships.