The Statewide News Collective. A community for news organizations serving statewide audiences.


The state of state news is in flux.      

While news media organizations have decreased the number of journalists assigned to statehouse reporting in a number of states, nonprofits are stepping in to fill the void.

These nonprofit startups are often tiny news operations funded by a mix of philanthropy dollars, donations and memberships. In many cases, these organizations were started by journalists. So, while the journalism is often top-notch, leaders may need more knowledge in other areas.

To that end, a collaborative organization has been formed to host virtual huddles for the leaders of these statewide news organizations. It’s called the Statewide News Collective.

The Statewide News Collective was formed in 2022, a spinoff from the Lenfest Institute, which employs Amy Kovac-Ashley as the head of national programs. Lenfest is centered in the Philadelphia area. The Collective is also associated with RevLab at the Texas Tribune and Spotlight PA.

Statewide news organizations have many different challenges compared to local or regional news operations. According to materials provided on the Lenfest website, state news organizations were interested in learning more from colleagues in the areas of:

  • Audience
  • Product
  • Revenue
  • People and Culture

Programming and collaboration for the Collective is guided by an eight-member advisory board but informed by the needs of the organizations. Kovac-Ashley orchestrates monthly executive calls, but conversations among the advisory board are always ongoing. There is no cost to join the Collective, but an organization that wishes to join must be established and operational.

“This group is really aimed at supporting the independent organizations serving their states,” Kovac-Ashley said. “We wanted to put the collective together to determine the needs across these states for different types of assistance and support. That could be back-office support types of things or different types of resources.”

The Statewide News Collective currently has 30 members across 25 states. Among the group are members from North Carolina and Mississippi, which have multiple nonprofit news organizations that have been in operation for several years. Others have just begun their foray into the nonprofit world of journalism.

“A lot of what we do with the Collective is that we have these people share what they're doing, what's working and what's not working,” Kovac-Ashley said. “And it’s a really important space for them to be able to share with others in very similar situations, to see what the commonalities are and the struggles that they're facing as well as what the winds are that they're seeing.”

Kovac-Ashley said the topics discussed during the calls vary widely. For example, in 2022, the group collaborated on midterm election coverage to discuss voter guides. The Baltimore Banner provided some insight into creating an audience through TikTok content. Executives have discussed how to collaborate on journalism training and revenue ideas. Conversations have also delved into politics that are “sort of anti-democracy and those efforts being replicated across the country. And so, it’s important for even folks who are not in those states where those things are happening that they hear from folks who are seeing that on the ground so that they become more aware of what the potential ant-democracy dangers are as it relates to their ability to do their jobs as the free press.”

Ultimately, one of the most critical aspects of the Collective is being able to vent and share with others in the same boat.

John S. Adams, the editor-in-chief of the Montana Free Press, is one of the Collective's most active members. His background is in journalism, having worked as a beat reporter at a small newspaper and climbing to lead the statehouse coverage in Montana for the Great Falls Tribune. According to his online profile, he also served as the Montana correspondent for USA Today.

John S. Adams, editor-in-chief of the Montana Free Press, a member of the Statewide News Collective 

He said it’s helpful to have people with the same mission and with whom he and others can share their struggles.

The intangible effect of not feeling alone in the pursuit of providing statewide journalism is a significant benefit.

“It’s catharsis, if you will,” he said.

But the tangible benefits are there, too.

“We’re all focused on mission-driven journalism vs. profit-driven journalism,” Adams said. “Most of these nonprofit startups were founded by journalists, and we come from a news-first perspective, but we lack experience and knowledge on the back end — things like HR, marketing, contracting and those types of things.”

Adams said he appreciates how the Collective includes leaders from organizations at different points in their journeys so less-experienced editors and directors can learn from those who have already overcome certain struggles and problems. Audience acquisition is among the issues facing nonprofits. The nonprofit leaders have shared how collaborations with for-profit news organizations have expanded their work's reach.

One challenge, Adams said, that the Collective is trying to attack is “impact tracking,” which means quantifying how journalism is affecting people in the real world. That impact can be partly measured by analytics, he said. However, the success of the nonprofit’s work is also partly measured by “whether a story sparks a legislative conversation or affects policy,” he said.

The journalism may lead to changes in funding in certain areas, which could also lead to day-to-day impacts on individuals throughout the state. Adams said three organizations represented in the group are developing research toolkits to better measure the overall impact of nonprofit journalism. He said this type of information could lead to improved knowledge of what’s working and also serve as a justification for return on investment to those who are funding and contributing to the work.

Adams said the Montana Free Press often exceeds financial targets, and things are going well. He said the revenue for the Free Press can be divided into three pockets: memberships, which include individual contributions up to $1,000; major donors; and philanthropy from institutions. In the near future, he hopes to diversify his revenue by adding events and sponsorships to the mix.

As for the Collective itself, Kovac-Ashley sees the group moving forward in new ways in the coming year. Among the goals is forming a mentorship exchange and creating a stronger bond between younger and veteran journalists.

Bob Miller has spent more than 25 years in local newsrooms, including 12 years as an executive editor with Rust Communications. He also produces an independent true crime investigative podcast called "The Lawless Files."


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