One site, however, the Center for Independent Media (CIM), a non-profit online journalism network, has taken a different approach to the non-profit journalism model, one which has helped them raise $11.5 million in just four years.
Founded in 2006, The CIM has created a network of six sites in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington D.C. Their seventh site, The Florida Independent, is set to launch soon thanks to a recent grant of $352,000 from the Knight Foundation.
The network's CEO David S. Bennahum says that diversifying into several branches creates fundraising flexibility. With more sites comes more discussions, and more opportunities to raise money. Bennahum explained this strategy in a recent interview with Laura McGann of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab, a former employee of his.
"From a financial standpoint, we're able to do things at a lower cost than other nonprofits, so foundation support we receive goes further, more of it goes to journalism, less of it goes to overhead as a percentage. This is a clear distinction between ourselves and all the other nonprofits, the fixed costs with operating a news organization are distributed across the network... In 2008, we spent tens of thousands of dollars at the time on a redesign, but it was distributed across six sites," said Bennahum.
Bennahum believes there are two roles for non-profit news organizations - as wholesalers and as retailers. ProPublica, he says, is a wholesaler, creating stories which they can turn around and sell to larger papers. CIM, on the other hand, is a retailer, speaking "directly to the customer," he says. This distinction has helped CIM to grow their audience, something Bennahum believes non-profits need to improve on.
"I think too many non-profit news organizations are insufficiently focused on whether anyone is reading their sites," says Bennahum. "I think it's a problem if you have raised money and ultimately at the end of the month, 15,000 people came to your site."