Connecting Community Listening with Revenue

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Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity Journalism Fund (REJ) and the American Press Institute (API) recently partnered to launch a new Listening and Sustainability Lab, which will support four publishers of color who want to delve into practices for listening and engagement with audience segments in order to lead to stronger journalism and new revenue streams.

At press time, the publishers had not yet been selected, but applications for the program had been sent out by invitation-only in November. Publishers will be given funding to support their involvement in the cohort, its programming and the execution of projects. Tracie Powell, program officer at REJ, explained that both Borealis and non-Borealis publishers were invited. The organizations focused on inviting print-only, print with some digital assets, and organizations that are predominantly digital. Publishers were chosen in mid-December (after E&P went to press).

The lab—a pilot program, funded largely by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation—was announced late last year. According to Amy Kovac-Ashley, vice president and senior director at API, the chosen publishers will develop a listening plan after selecting their audience segment. The next step will include pursuing revenue streams that can be connected to the new audience segments; the Revenue Lab at The Texas Tribune will lead coaching on revenue exploration. Along the way, the publishers will share what they are learning with each other, and API and REJ will share their insights with the industry.

“Whether legacy or startups, these publishers have strong ties to their communities and are primed for deepening those relationships—both to produce stronger journalism for these communities and also to develop additional revenue streams so that the publishers can thrive in the years to come,” said Kovac-Ashley. “The lab will give them a chance to experiment, test and adapt to real-time feedback from audiences, with assistance, guidance and coaching along the way.”

Managing the program will be Michael Grant, founder of GetCurrent Studio which supports ethnic media publishers with technology transformation. He helped select the publishers and will assist in breaking down metrics and analytics about the publishers’ audiences and more. According to Powell, Grant was a natural fit. As a teaching fellow at Google News Lab, he is familiar with Google consumer insight tools as well as other digital tools. Additionally, he has worked with REJ publishers on their digital strategy in the past.

“A growing number of legacy media organizations that are (owned by people of color) have found formidable support through the process of digital transformation,” Grant said. “As these organizations improve their digital infrastructure, adopting listening-based approaches to audience needs will insure they deliver content with a deeper connection with their audience. It’s a skill set that I want to see them adopt and become expert at.”

Powell added, “Connecting sustainability to really serve your community, users and audiences is something that all news organizations are grappling with. Publishers of color and news organizations serving diverse communities…are traditionally and historically under resourced and undercapitalized, and this is an opportunity for them to receive access to resources and expertise they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have access to.”

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