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The INN Index

Audience & Distribution

As nonprofit outlets launch to cover a community, many times filling an information gap, they’re launching nimbly online. INN outlets are mostly digital, with 71% of outlets primarily publishing coverage through their website — representing a pronounced shift from print-based journalism models. Smaller cohorts of outlets primarily publish over email newsletter (13%) and print (8%). 

The geographic scope of an outlet’s coverage often dictates the organization’s audience and distribution strategy. Local outlets produce coverage for a single city, county or metro area, or even a cluster of neighborhoods or towns, and are most often focused on serving a population of 100,000 or less. Nearly all local outlets (9 in 10 outlets in 2023) focus on reaching audiences through their own direct platforms — mostly over the web. For local outlets, focusing on direct distribution makes sense: Many locals operate in areas without other sources of high-quality news, and local outlets are finding success with building revenue from direct audiences (including small-dollar donor giving, and earned revenue).  

National and global organizations most often focus on investigative or explanatory reporting, and they often target audiences of multiple millions with their coverage. They rely on third-party distribution — partnerships with other news sites, print publications and public radio — to reach audiences beyond their own platforms. 

Audience trend data tell a more complicated story. INN will publish additional audience and distribution findings in its next Index Deep Dive, slated for fall 2024. Here’s what we know now: 

  • Core year-over-year direct audience data (from 2022 to 2023) underscores the challenges news publishers face with the collapse of referrals from Meta and X (formerly Twitter). Pooling across all surveyed outlets, the average number of unique monthly visitors declined by about one-third from 2022.
  • On the bright side, slightly more than half of the nearly 300 publishers who provided data for 2022 and 2023 increased web visitors, and nearly 6 in 10 nonprofit news organizations increased the number of email newsletter subscribers.
  • About one third of outlets reported declines in web visitors while nearly one-fifth said traffic was flat between 2022 and 2023. While a large majority reported gains in newsletter subscriptions, one-third said the number was flat and one in 10 reported a decline in subscribers. 

INN members can access additional audience and distribution benchmarking data through the Pods program

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