The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IX No. 7 (September 2012)

Into the breach: Nonprofit news operations face a different set of challenges

By Chris Frear

As the Great Recession accelerated the decline of traditional news operations in the U.S. and some other countries, the number of nonprofit news ventures has increased to fill the reporting void. In a new article, two veterans of nonprofit startups explore the different set of challenges nonprofits face.

Robert E. "Ted" Gutsche Jr. and Jim Malewitz assess their experience at and and issue a call for further research to help nonprofits meet the challenge and enhance independent news reporting.

The Convergence Newsletter provides a place to describe front line issues for practitioners and for professors training a new generation of reporters and editors. We're always interested in those ideas or parts of research projects that are compelling but deserve fuller treatment beyond a journal article or that do not make an article's final cut.

Please e-mail articles or suggestions to us at You can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog. View past newsletters at The Convergence Newsletter archive.

Convergence Conference will work to advance business journalism

The 11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference will feature two days of research and panels exploring the conference themes: advancing business journalism and convergence. The conference opens with an evening reception Wednesday, Sept. 26, then continues with two full days of sessions Sept. 27 and 28.

In addition to panels exploring the latest research, practices, and teaching issues related to convergent journalism, the conference features five sessions addressing business journalism. Keynote speaker Linda O'Bryon, co-creator of PBS's "Nightly Business Report" and president of South Carolina ETV, will address the increasing importance of business journalism. Other speakers addressing topics related to business journalism include the University of North Carolina's Chris Roush and Reynolds Business Professor Pam Luecke from Washington and Lee University. Veteran journalists Gabriella Stern, global news editor at Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, investigative reporter Mary Fricker, and University of South Carolina visiting professor Rob Wells, a former Wall Street Journal deputy bureau chief, will discuss lessons for students and educators after the 2008 financial crisis.

Conference registration is open. Complete details and registration information can be found on the conference website. For more information or answers to questions about the conference, contact Co-Chair Augie Grant,

Host school sought for 2013 Convergence and Society Conference

By Augie Grant
Convergence and Society Conference Co-Chair

As the 2012 Convergence and Society conference arrives, we're already looking ahead to 2013. Every four years, we take the conference "on the road" so that participants can enjoy a change of venue and get to know another program. The host school is responsible for providing the conference co-chair, who will help determine the theme and coordinate logistical details, as well as administrative support and funding for limited aspects of the conference. The conference is tentatively scheduled for October 2013, but the date is flexible to accommodate other meetings and events. If you are interested in having your school host the 2013 Convergence and Society conference, please contact me right away for more details:


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

Sept. 27-28: 11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference: Advancing Business Journalism and Convergence, Columbia, S.C.

Sept. 27-28: Social Media Technology Conference & Workshop, Washington

Oct. 19: Paper submission deadline, International Symposium on Online Journalism Austin, Texas

Nov. 1: Paper submission deadline, International Communication Association, London

Dec. 1: Paper submission deadline, Research Symposium of the Broadcast Education Association, Las Vegas

Dec. 3-4: Annual International Conference on Journalism & Mass Communications, Singapore


Featured article

Facing the future of online, nonprofit news

By Robert E. Gutsche Jr.
and Jim Malewitz

National and regional online nonprofit centers have moved in to fill an information gap through in-depth collaborative journalism, trying to save a cash-strapped U.S. news industry. In fact, such nonprofits have often been framed as watchdog journalism's savior in an industry facing constant economic struggles.

Despite immense praise nonprofit news work has received in recent years (the nonprofit ProPublica, for instance, earned Pulitzers in 2010 and 2011), nonprofits face unspoken challenges, especially in journalistic practice. This paper suggests that nonprofit journalists should ask themselves: Does mission-focused journalism really change things, or do similar financial considerations of traditional media continue to shape nonprofit news coverage?


We write this essay from our own experiences in nonprofit news. Ted Gutsche served as an interns director and reporter at in 2009 – a site that quickly became a model for regional nonprofit news outlets. In late 2009, he co-founded Jim Malewitz joined IowaWatch in 2010 as a master's professional student at The University of Iowa's School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is working as a fellow at, a nonprofit funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

A version of this paper was presented at the Future of Journalism Conference 2011 in Cardiff, Wales, and focuses on unspoken challenges for startup digital news nonprofits in the U.S. These nonprofits often rely on the resources of others to do the reporting – universities, volunteers, even established newsrooms. For-profit news outlets benefit by getting the finished articles to publish at no cost, receiving in-depth journalism without the cost of a traditional news wire.

Nonprofit news organizations are usually supported by private donations and grants, from a few thousand to multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only a few nonprofits have considered turning to advertising, paywalls, or other traditional tactics for revenue. For example, California Watch and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting run ads on their sites.

Many of these news outlets are staffed by a mix of interns and volunteers and are often overseen by paid, veteran journalists. Depending on the nonprofit, these staffs can range from a handful of reporters to dozens of employees, editorial contributors, and volunteers.

Our experience has been at smaller nonprofits that relied on college student interns and volunteer community members to help write grants, report on stories, and publicize our work. But our thoughts are meant to be as applicable to large outlets as to tiny ones.

Nonprofits' main goal: journalism or sustainability?

When we started in nonprofit news, we looked forward to an environment absent of the for-profit influences. And, because the Internet had allowed nonprofit news startups to publish cheaply, we did not expect money would influence our journalism as much as when we relied on advertisers, shareholders, and publishers.

We were wrong.

We soon realized that nonprofit journalism, which still needs pens, notebooks, and office space, was more similar to the for-profit world. We found that the quality and quantity of our news depended largely upon how much money we had.

Maybe this was naiveté, and maybe we were just swooning over nonprofit news' potential influence, but we were especially surprised when our reporting was often set aside as we began to focus on the nonprofit news industry's most often-used buzzword, "sustainability," and sought answers to the question: How do we pay for all of this journalism?

We quickly realized that the things traditionally challenging editorial independence at for-profits (the necessity to increase profit margins and to appeal to advertisers) translate inside the nonprofit world into the need to attract donations from individuals, foundations and, in some cases, corporations.

More concerning, however, is that nonprofit leaders want to talk about either sustainability or journalism, but not both together. We have not found conversations about how searching for money might influence searching for stories.

We found our projects taking longer to produce, each requiring more reliance on organizational structures, policies, and funding relationships often built from scratch. Much of our time was spent on constructing a news service – taking precious time away from doing journalism.

Through all of this, and even with our tax-exempt status, we soon began to ask ourselves: "How are we different than for-profit institutions?"

Our nonprofit status, the use of volunteers and a mission statement more focused on creating journalism than profits did not preclude us from needing money to do our work. We not only needed to worry about funding our immediate efforts, but also to create a sustaining business model.

That so much time and energy would be expended, especially at the outset of a new organization, may not be surprising. But we were especially concerned that no one else seemed to be talking about the same problems we were seeing in our groups and others. For instance, we quickly began looking into fundraising elsewhere in the nonprofit news world, turning to listservs and conversations with others who successfully attracted seed money and consistent grants. And we found that excitement about collaboration diminished when finding money to get started turned into finding money to become sustainable. We were all going after the same cash – and that came with fierce competition.

Handbooks and guides created by some news nonprofit leaders (for example, see provide support and resources for those interested in starting nonprofit news sites. However, the literature had little information about how to fund these sites, how to attract donors, and how to manage the money. For example, "Launching a Nonprofit News Site," a 12-step guide to help nonprofits get up and running, makes no mention of how to get grants. [1]

This constant focus on sustainability – through exploring innovative business models and performing old-fashioned solicitations of funds – surprised us in how many of these efforts influenced our journalism. In some ways, we had not moved far from the for-profit worries – nonprofits may not have to please advertisers, but certainly their reporting and other efforts must please donors.

Revisiting the "journalistic wall"

Despite documented economic influences upon news work, for-profit journalists have prided themselves on maintaining a "wall" between advertising and editorial departments.

At regional nonprofit news outlets like ours, however, we found it common for there to be no wall at all and for the early financial instability to affect the behavior of sources and the confidence of reporters.

During WisconsinWatch's first summer, for instance, it had to rebuff state officials' attempts to influence its political reporting by threatening to disparage the center's reputation among other media and potential donors. Inside the newsroom, we found reporters easily became cost-conscious, sometimes hesitating before making decisions that many for-profit reporters might consider routine.

In fact, depending on the nonprofit and its revenues, there may not be room for merely following a hunch; travel, long-distance phone calls, public records requests, and printing paper must somehow contribute to a publishable report for those efforts to be worth the cost. There is no chance to sell more advertising as traditional outlets might attempt, for example, to fund such reporting.

For instance, in summer 2010, one IowaWatch reporter recommended to an editor that she abandon her months-long investigation into Iowa puppy mills because the public records cost too much to justify her findings. IowaWatch offered to pay the $150, but the reporter recommended it keep the money and assign her to a new project – a suggestion IowaWatch followed.

Initially, WisconsinWatch reporters also made decisions not to meet sources for stories when they discovered the high costs of travel.

For-profit outlets must choose what is financially feasible for reporting, but those decisions are likely to involve much larger costs than a tank of gasoline. Discussions about costs at for-profits tend to occur at higher levels within management, not at the reporter level as we've occasionally seen within nonprofits.

These financial pressures – and their potential influences upon news work – require nonprofits to consider how to gain trust from their constituencies through transparency. Whereas for-profit news organizations say they serve solely one constituency – their readers – nonprofits acknowledge through their choices on reporting and how they market themselves that they have three constituencies: readers, news collaborators, and donors.

Providing reporting that is best perceived by donors has meant removing the "wall" between finances and reporting within nonprofit news. Without adequate resources, there can be no "wall" between what a news organization covers and how to pay for it – especially when nonprofits are small and not yet fully established. Journalists, then, are left balancing their roles in public service and as organizational money managers.

Challenging professional paradigms

Almost immediately after we entered the nonprofit news world, we found ourselves re-socialized as journalists. No longer told that competition was the sole driving force of doing "good journalism," we came to believe that collaborating outside of our newsroom produced the most impactful news.

By pooling resources, sources, publication platforms, and journalistic minds, our reporting would benefit the public and news organizations. However, we found that the idea of journalistic collaboration has been positioned so far outside the professional paradigm that we struggled to answer seemingly simple questions when we began collaborating with mainstream journalists:

  • Which news outlet makes final edits?
  • Who decides when to publish?
  • Which news outlet takes the lead on crafting the story?
  • How do we resolve differences in editorial opinions?

Most importantly, which news outlet takes the credit and who bears the most responsibility for the reporting, pending criticism?

In the traditional news environment, a set of well-established journalistic procedures and values, including competition, tends to help journalists answer similar questions. However, from our experience at nonprofits, we suggest that mainstream journalists who work with the nonprofit model must be socialized to work outside their traditional paradigms.

For starters, mainstream journalists have to be convinced that collaboration will lead to wider exposure of the news and that a greater distribution of journalistic work would more likely spur public debate and policy change, a notion that harkens back to the ideal watchdog function of the press.

Conclusion: next steps?

Contrary to any implication of financial freedom and independence in the emergence of nonprofit regional news outlets in the U.S., journalists have no sanctuary from market-driven pressures.

Even among nonprofits, financial considerations play a significant role in news coverage. While nonprofits may operate independently from shareholders, corporate forces and advertisers, they face pressures created by the constant need to attract donations.

The reality that news workers must maintain long-term financial stability splits the journalists' focus between news, networking, and self-promotion. This weakened "wall" between editorial and business in the nonprofit newsroom contributes to what may be an even larger issue – its potential influence on journalism.

We've found through our experience that such a focus on funding can create money-conscious, self-censoring reporters and editors who may subtly shape content to best fit a donor's mission. Self-censorship, which chills the journalistic mission, runs counter to the missions of many nonprofit initiatives, particularly those in which we've been involved.

More concerning, however, has been the lack of open conversation among nonprofit news workers and media scholars about the potential problems involved with this form of journalism. Only with further investigations into the nature of nonprofit news work can we reveal the challenges – and possible conflicts – to better the work of journalists.

Robert E. Gutsche Jr., reported for mainstream news media, including The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, before helping launch in 2009 and co-founding later that year. Gutsche is an assistant professor of journalism at Florida International University. Visit

Jim Malewitz joined in 2010 as a master's professional student at The University of Iowa's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he graduated in 2011. He now reports on state energy and environmental policy as a fellow at, a nonprofit funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

[1] (Return)


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers
(Return to top)

11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference: Advancing Business Journalism
and Convergence
University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
Sept. 27-28


Social Media Technology Conference & Workshop
Sept. 27-28


The International Symposium on Online Journalism
April 19-20
University of Texas at Austin
Paper submission deadline: Oct. 19


International Communication Association
June 17-21
Paper submission deadline: Nov. 1


Research Symposium of the Broadcast Education Association
April 7
Las Vegas
Paper submission deadline: Dec. 1


Annual International Conference on Journalism & Mass Communications
Dec. 3-4


Job Listings

Duke: Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy
Sanford School of Public Policy
Submit a letter of application and C.V. to Professor James T. Hamilton, Knight Search Committee Chair, via
Deadline: Dec. 14. Review begins immediately.


Winthrop: Instructor or assistant professor, tenure track in broadcast, new media
Requirements: M.A., Ph.D. preferred. Professional experience.
Submit a letter of application, C.V., contacts for three academic and two professional references, graduate transcripts, teaching philosophy, research plans, and recent teaching evaluations to J. William Click, chair,
Review opened Sept. 17 and will continue until position filled.


Virginia Tech: Assistant professor of communication, public relations, tenure track
Requirements: Ph.D., research and teaching record. Posting number 0122315
For more information, Robert E. Denton Jr., (540) 231-7166,
Deadline: Oct. 15


Publisher and Editorial Staff

The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Executive Editor: Doug Fisher

Editor: Christopher Frear

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The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence in all forms including technological, organizational, operational, psychological, and sociological. We welcome articles of all sorts and encourage those addressing the subject in new ways and with new perspectives. We also accept news briefs, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academic and professional; the publication style is AP for copy and APA for citations.

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