A deep dive into the sustainability needs and concerns of community media outlets

May 3, 2023

53% of community media outlets surveyed said they expected to go out of business within five years if current revenue trends continue

May 3, 2023

Although much attention in journalism investment circles has focused on ways to develop and protect both new and old organizations, less emphasis has been placed on the specific needs of a crucial component of the news ecosystem: community media. 

For communities of color and immigrants, community media is often the only place to be engaged in civic discourse, learn about community happenings, and find out about opportunities or concerns. In many ways, community media outlets act as a vibrant town square. Many of these publications contain the “news from home,” focused on home countries and the political and social issues occurring there. Some are published in English, others in the native language of the nationality covered. As our partner in this work the CUNY Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s Center for Community Media (CCM) describes: “Communities of color and immigrants often rely on their own news outlets as the only trusted sources of information. Yet these news outlets remain largely invisible to mainstream media, public officials, the nonprofit sector, advertisers and philanthropic organizations.” 

This brief report,“A Deep Dive into the Sustainability Needs and Concerns Among Community Media Outlets,” hopes to narrow that gap in a small way. The report was funded largely by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. 

To assess the areas of greatest need among community media outlets, the National Trust for Local News partnered with CCM to survey 103 leaders of community media outlets serving racial, ethnic, or linguistic communities in 24 states about their concerns related to sustainability and the future of their publications, including capital, transformation, and succession needs. 

Here are the report’s key takeaways: 

  • 53% of respondents reported that their organization would go out of business in less than five years when asked about their ability to continue to operate based on their recent financial performance.
  • In a survey of 50 publishers who opted to take a second, follow-up survey, 62% reported that they rely on grants for at least some portion of their total revenue, and 42% rely on gifts from individuals. 
  • Across the cohort, access to consistent operating capital greatly hampered service expansion and/or key hiring.
  • The most significant challenge to preparing for a smooth transfer of ownership was itself  “overall succession planning,” followed by “finding new interested owners.”
  • Publishers that face the potential of closing within one to five years and those with a more optimistic view of the future shared the belief that building a digital set of products is critical to sustainability. 
  • The more sustainable outlets stressed the importance of leadership having a background in business — and those facing a less certain future ranked editorial background as the most vital.
  • When asked about allocation of staffing resources, respondents who anticipate lasting five years or longer dedicated more staffing resources to sales and marketing than the respondents who anticipate closing before the five-year mark. 

These findings point to two specific needs:

  • Publishers across the board said they did not have a succession plan in place and would benefit from more training on how to implement strategies for transitioning to new leadership.
  • Publishers need access to technical expertise and resources about new and consistent forms of revenue, more information about ways to seek capital, and business and digital transformation training.

Suggested next steps:

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