See below for our research team’s methods and defined terms. Please reach out to INN’s Research Director Emily Roseman with any questions.
About the survey: INN distributed the survey online in January 2022 to 338 INN network newsrooms, excluding service organizations that are also INN members, and 315, or 93%, completed the survey. Survey responses reflect performance in the calendar year 2021. Previous years’ surveys were generally representative with response rates ranging from 60% to 94%. Starting with the 2020 Index survey, INN started requiring outlets participating in NewsMatch to complete the Index survey, which raised completion rates for both the 2020 and 2021 Index surveys. Survey language is provided here. The data do not scientifically represent all North American nonprofit news outlets, since not all belong to INN, including an array of public media stations. Specific year-over-year comparisons should be interpreted cautiously; this report draws directional trends across the field.
A note on the cohort used for this report: Of the 315 news organizations that completed the survey, the data for 285 are included in this report. (Data provided by 30 members from the public media sector is not included due to systematic differences in how these organizations report revenue and expenses.) For the revenue analysis portion, 20 startups younger than one year were excluded, as they did not yet have comparable data for the entire year. An additional 18 organizations did not provide revenue data. Thus, the revenue section of the report is based on the information provided by 247 outlets. Year-over-year financial comparisons are drawn from smaller cohorts of outlets that provided complete financial data for 2020-2021 (N = 201), as well as 2018-2021 (N = 92).
A note on medians vs. averages vs. ranges: The authors of the Index Report prefer to use median calculations throughout the report largely due to two factors: 1) a relatively small N size with a population of roughly 300, and 2) some significant outliers that skew averages. However, for some calculations like the average donation in dollars, we are unable to calculate the median since we do not have a list of data points for this survey question. In these cases, we default to averages. We supply a range in cases where knowing the upper and lower limits of a data point are helpful in understanding the field.
Core group of digital-first, independent publishers: This term refers to the group of 285, non-public broadcasting publishers that completed the Index survey. The research team excludes financial data from 30 INN members from the public media sector, due to systematic differences in how these organizations report revenue and expenses.
Direct audiences: Direct audiences refer to the audiences using and engaging with a news outlet’s platforms, including its website, email newsletters and social media platforms. Direct audiences are largely interpreted in this report as a news organization’s web traffic (measured by average monthly uniques) and email newsletter subscriber size.
Earned revenue: Earned revenue can be understood as the funds a nonprofit organization generates by providing value to businesses and related goods and services, including sponsorship, advertising and underwriting. This contrasts with funds received from philanthropic sources, such as grants and major gifts. Earned revenue is one of the three major revenue streams for nonprofit news.
Foundations: Foundations are nonprofit organizations that support charitable activities in order to serve the common good. Foundation funding is one of three major revenue streams for nonprofit news.
Global news: Global organizations generally take aim at broad world topics or they produce news of distant places. There are 21 global organizations in this study.
Index trend set: In addition to our 2021 Index survey data, the Index can now begin to identify longer-term trends from a group of 92 news organizations that provided consistent data for 2018 and 2021, capturing performance over a four-year period. Of the 92, 82 provided revenue data. We refer to this group as the Index trend set. This cohort of outlets represents a close to even split of local news organizations, state and regional organizations, and national and global organizations. However, since it reflects organizations that were active in 2018, it has a lower proportion of local outlets than the current field.
Individual giving: Individual giving is an umbrella term that encompasses financial contributions from individuals, including small-dollar ($1,000 or less), mid-level ($1,000 – $5,000), and major donors ($5,000 or more). Survey respondents use these shared definitions for their Index survey reporting. Individual giving is one of the three major revenue streams for nonprofit news.
Local news: Local news organizations are those that cover part or all of a community, municipality or county or a cluster of them, ranging from large metro areas to small neighborhoods. The study includes data for 121 local news organizations.
National news: National organizations focus on public affairs issues that affect the entire country. “National” in this context largely means the United States, except for three survey respondents that cover national news in Canada. This study includes 60 national outlets.
Regional news: Regional news outlets cover news within two or more states making up a region, such as a Midwest reporting outlet. There are 24 regional organizations in this study.
State news: State news outlets primarily focus on government policy or politics or topics of public interest such as health or the environment in a single state. There are 59 state outlets in this study.
Third-party audiences: Audiences interacting with a news outlet’s coverage or services but on a platform not managed by the news outlet itself. In this report, we refer to the organizations managing these external platforms as “third-party publishers.” Third-party audiences largely come from other news outlets republishing or rebroadcasting content, including on social media and other digital platforms.