Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund and the American Press Institute announced a partnership today to support publishers of color who want to explore how learning methods for listening and in-depth engagement with specific audience segments can lead to stronger journalism and new revenue streams.

Racial Equity in Journalism Fund logoOver the next year, API and REJ together will provide audience development research and coaching to four publishers of color through a new Listening & Sustainability Lab. Each participating organization in the cohort will receive specialized support along with peer-learning opportunities to build new audiences and identify new revenue streams through a community-centered process.

The Lab focuses on four main needs for developing and serving new audience segments in a sustainable manner. Participating publishers of color will receive:

  • Guidance in assessing current and potential new audience segments
  • Insights from human-centered design research about the information needs and concerns of a specific audience they want to reach
  • Expert advising to identify and begin a community listening plan with that audience segment, and
  • Coaching to explore and pursue revenue streams that support this kind of audience-centered journalism.

Along the way, the publishers will share with one another what they are learning, and API and REJ will share insights for the wider field.

“Publishers of color already tend to have deep relationships with their communities and audiences. But it’s just as important for them to know who they might be missing,” said Tracie Powell, program officer for REJ at Borealis Philanthropy. “We hope this initiative will support publishers in gaining a deeper understanding of who they’re reaching and who they aren’t. The lessons we hope to learn from this initiative will not only better inform the news organizations, but the entire journalism ecosystem.”

The pilot program, funded in part by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, builds on success stories of audience-centered journalism and the revenue streams it empowers. Increasingly, news organizations are creating stronger journalism and finding new revenue possibilities through in-depth listening and relationship-building with community segments that they commit to better engage and serve. Grants, sponsorships, events and reader revenue are among the revenue sources that can grow out of successful strategies in community listening.

Documented, an REJ grantee and a participant in API’s 2019-20 Community Listening Fellowship, is one such publisher identifying how listening supports revenue. The nonprofit news site, which serves immigrants in New York City, developed two-way conversations with Spanish-speaking immigrants that help them focus their journalism on real needs and to steward their resources to meet those needs. These efforts have helped Documented pursue grants and fellowships that allow the organization to continue and expand this work.

Santa Cruz Local, a local news organization co-founded in 2019 by a woman of color, is another. The staff was skeptical of engagement at first. API sent an adviser to Santa Cruz Local to aid in this mindset shift. Since January, the team has interviewed and surveyed more than 700 Santa Cruz County residents about their priorities for the local elections. The team has since quickly attracted more than 600 paying members, describing listening sessions with different parts of their community as essential to their growth.

“We’ve seen in our adviser work how community listening can make a big impact — even more so during times of uncertainty and crisis,” said Amy L. Kovac-Ashley, vice president/senior director of the American Press Institute. “It helps build trust and makes journalists more knowledgeable about the information needs of various, specific segments of communities. We are grateful to bring what we have learned from this successful model of matching just-in-time advisers to our work with publishers of color.”

Michael Grant, whose GetCurrent Studio supports ethnic media publishers with technology transformation, will help manage the API-REJ partnership.

API is facilitating the program with project management by Michael Grant, a veteran journalist and founder of Get Current Studio. Grant’s studio supports ethnic media publishers through digital transformation and gives special attention to BIPOC-owned media that struggle with technology adoption.

API has expertise in audience research, community listening and revenue exploration. Its analytics and national audience research programs help journalists understand the qualities of journalism that inform audiences and develop loyalty. Its expert advising on both listening and sustainability have helped news organizations deepen relationships with communities and use data to refine revenue strategies. This year, with support from McCormick, API held a series of virtual events to help innovators in engagement and reader revenue understand the intersection of their work.

Borealis Philanthropy established the REJ Fund in 2019 to bolster the capacity and sustainability of news organizations led by people of color and partners in equity to increase civic engagement for communities of color. It is supporting grantees and other publishers of color by providing funding for the critical and sometimes overlooked needs of news organizations in a changing media landscape, such as business and organizational development. The REJ Fund also provides a space for publishers of color to learn from each other and collectively understand industry trends.

REJ and API are currently inviting publishers of color to apply for this opportunity. The program will start with an assessment of current and desired audiences before the end of 2020. In January 2021, API and Grant will support research of one specific audience segment chosen by the news organization. In spring 2021, publishers will begin working with experts on both listening and sustainability related to this audience, which will continue until approximately September 2021.

To further support participating publishers’ pursuit of new revenue, API and REJ will collaborate with the Revenue Lab at The Texas Tribune, a research and training center funded in part by the Facebook Journalism Project. The RevLab will lead coaching on revenue exploration that first considers the audiences publishers want to reach.

“As API has demonstrated so well, community listening fortifies a news organization’s relationship with its audience, but the benefits don’t end there,” said Rodney Gibbs, RevLab’s executive director. “An audience-centered approach to journalism also can lead to new revenue-generating products or processes. We’re excited to help publishers develop sustainable ways to address their audiences’ needs that generate revenue to fund their ongoing work.”

Questions about the program can be directed to Applications for this pilot are currently by invitation. REJ and API seek to expand offerings in the future.

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