The Collaborative Sustainability Guide: How journalism collaboratives earn the revenue they need to grow and thrive

A toolkit from The Center for Cooperative Media, The Lenfest Institute, and Solutions Journalism Network

The field of collaborative journalism is growing not just in size, but also in scope. An increasing number of local news organizations are collaborating with one another to produce stories, test new technology, host events, and better serve their communities’ information needs. Many of these collaborative efforts are short-term, meant to cover a single topic or serve a specific need, and often are funded by participating organizations.

But some collaborative journalism projects seek to become sustainable entities in and of themselves. The Center for Cooperative Media has identified more than 40 of these permanent or semi-permanent collaborative journalism entities in the U.S., the majority of which began within the last five to seven years. They include both for-profit organizations and nonprofit ventures. Some are fiscally sponsored or at an in-between stage, housed within one of the collaborators. Non-news partners like libraries and universities also play an important role

Today, most of these collaborative journalism efforts are funded by philanthropy, especially in the beginning. And we know that will continue to be a key pillar of support.

However, like many organizations, collaboratives that hope to continue long-term discover they must transition and diversify revenue streams. This means clearly understanding what audience or audiences a given collaborative serves. What jobs does it do for its audience, and how? What revenue streams align with that value proposition?

As this field matures, we wanted to know: What’s working to generate revenue and sustain journalism collaborations, beyond philanthropy?

To answer this question, the Center for Cooperative Media, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Solutions Journalism Network conducted a survey, interviewed collaborative project managers, funders and ecosystem support staff from around the country, and ultimately identified eight innovative examples of collaborative revenue experiments in progress to share with you. These experiments range from new reader revenue streams to newsletter sponsorships, monetizing events and sharing back-office services.

In this guide, we curate some of the top resources available to project managers and newsrooms today to help you put these ideas into action. Throughout, we share templates you can use in your own work. 

We hope you find this toolkit useful in advancing your own collaborative journalism — both now and for the long haul. We plan to continue to update the guide with additional resources. Please fill out this short form if you’d like to share any ideas or lessons you’ve learned that we should include.

Yours in collaboration,

Center for Cooperative Media

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism

Solutions Journalism Network

Local News Solutions

The Lenfest Institute provides free tools and resources for local journalism leaders to develop sustainable strategies to serve their communities.

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