INN, Lenfest Institute’s Statewide News Collective partner to create benchmarking data for news organizations serving entire states

January 19, 2024

Montana Free Press reporter Alex Sakariassen catches up with Choteau outfitter and rancher Dusty Crary inside the Montana Capitol. Eliza Anderson Wiley / Montana Free Press

As national politics have become increasingly polarized and Congress gridlocked, state legislatures have addressed policies that were formerly decided at the federal level — making news organizations that cover state-wide issues more essential than ever.

A new generation of startup news organizations has stepped up to fill this need. The number of nonprofit news reporters who cover state capitols has nearly quadrupled since 2014, accounting for 20% of the nation’s total statehouse press corps and forming the second-largest contingent of all statehouse reporters, after those who work for traditional newspapers, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center study.

To help statewide publishers better understand trends in audience growth, revenue generation, and staffing needs, the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) and the Statewide News Collective collaborated to curate benchmarking data that offers insights into the common challenges and opportunities news organizations covering state issues face.

Using findings from the 2023 INN Index, members of the Statewide News Collective were able to analyze anonymized data from 54 statewide publishers who participated in the INN Index study. The tool included metrics such as staff size, breakdowns of revenues and expenses, and insights into audience acquisition and retention.

The INN Index is the most comprehensive annual study of the state of nonprofit news, surveying 400+ independent newsrooms that belong to the INN Network. The 2023 Index study includes data from calendar year 2022; INN is currently collecting 2023 data for the 2024 Index survey.

The Statewide News Collective, organized by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, addresses the unique challenges facing news organizations that serve an entire state. There are currently 30 publishers representing 25 states in the Collective. The Collective is open to both nonprofit and for-profit outlets, although most members operate as nonprofits and are members of INN.

“Making INN’s Index data more actionable for INN member outlets, and the wider journalism industry, is one of our top goals — so this partnership with the Statewide News Collective was the perfect fit,” said INN’s Research Director Emily Roseman.

Key findings from this initial exploration of the data include:

  • Statewide publishers saw an increase in national and global foundation revenue in 2022. Though the Index data doesn’t point to a cause, Statewide News Collective members noted that this increase coincided with the 2022 midterm elections that featured significant races in states across the country.
  • Across the nonprofit field as a whole, startup news organizations tend to have higher levels of funding from foundations, with investments from foundations becoming a smaller portion of operating budgets as they mature. The opposite is true for statewide publishers, with older organizations maintaining higher percentages of foundation revenue.
  • More than two-thirds of statewide publishers in the dataset have 15 or fewer full-time employees — including both newsroom and business positions.

INN and the Statewide News Collective hope to expand on the benchmarks in 2024 to share more detailed recommendations.

“The Collective offers a peer network of statewide publishers who share openly about the challenges and opportunities they face in serving statewide communities,” said Lenfest Institute National Program Director Allie Vanyur. “Partnering with INN’s knowledgeable research team provided an opportunity to analyze data within a trusted community of peers and dive into the nuances and stories behind the numbers. This pilot has formed a solid foundation on which to build continued partnership between INN and The Lenfest Institute to better serve the industry at-large.”

The full dataset is only available to Statewide News Collective Members. Publications interested in joining the Collective can fill out an interest form or email [email protected] with any questions. INN member outlets interested in more benchmarking data can see INN’s Pods program. A fact sheet looking at the broader set of INN members serving states or regions is available here.  

The Statewide News Collective was founded in 2022 by The Lenfest Institute with RevLab at The Texas Tribune and Spotlight PA — both members of the INN Network.

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