Karen Rundlet

615. INN helps newsrooms focus on their communities to grow revenue

The future of journalism might not even go by that name, but the strongest newsrooms will be built with their community in mind — and with their community’s backing, suggests Karen Rundlet, executive director of the Institute for Nonprofit News

“We help news organizations. We help them find their long-term financial footing,” says Rundlet, who has been in her job for four months, after spending several years with the Knight Foundation. “We have 450 members. Those are newsrooms. They’re all nonprofit, which means they are producing public service journalism. That includes your public media station in Charlotte, North Carolina, WFAE, national investigative powerhouses like ProPublica, and smaller community newsrooms you might not have heard of but are doing innovative things — Mississippi Today won a Pulitzer. … We’re a force for good and not everyone gets to be an INN member.” 

INN provides training to its member newsrooms on how to fundraise in order to shore up their long-term viability, in addition to hosting an annual conference. “We’re providing them information about collaborations, we run a rural news network, we have a phenomenal program called NewsMatch where they reach out to individual donors and they donate to them and (the newsrooms) get match dollars.” 

NewsMatch is a particular feather in INN’s cap, as it helps newsrooms learn how to fundraise and then rewards them for their successful efforts. 

“With NewsMatch, you get a certain amount of money if you learn how to fundraise. If you go out and achieve that fundraising, you get match dollars,” she says. “Newsrooms are able to have a conversation with their audience, with their community, with everyday people, with residents. They’re able to make the case for why journalism is so important. Jouranlism has to solve a problem for audiences. They’re able to do that. This program has been going for eight years and it’s been successful in terms of helping newsrooms bring in dollars to keep themselves strong. It’s also aiming them with the tools to tell the story about why it’s important to have fact-based information coursing through this country.” 

Rundlet says she thinks about the concept of audience all the time. Newsrooms need to serve their audiences, both in terms of the audience’s interest, but also providing them access to information they might not otherwise receive. One woman with whom Rundlet spoke said she was just going to public meetings and writing a blog, but eventually she teamed up with some other partners, finding some funding and doing some in-depth investigative work. 

“There are some accidental publishers just trying to get information out,” Rundlet says. “There’s a lot of noise out there. Long-term, I’m thinking about audience all the time. Some of our members are very young in their work, some launched last year, some are eight years old. The community that reads and listens to them and ends up doing to them is really important.” 

What Rundlet doesn’t like is the concept of “saving journalism.” 

“I like to say strengthen and reimagine journalism,” she says. “The next generation is not necessarily using the word ‘journalism.’ We still need facts. We still need data. We still need trusted information. It’s good for communities. It’s good for democracy.” 

INN, Rundlet notes, was started by investigative journalists who were laid off and looking for a way to survive. Now INN helps other reporters and news organizations find ways to continue their work, as a nonprofit, with the support of the communities they serve, with the help of creative ideas and the buy-in of the all-important audience. 

“We’re evolving into something different,” Rundlet says. “I always say to anyone, ‘You need to be talking to someone 10 years younger than you, 20 years younger than you.’ The next generation is not coming up with journalism in the same way. Journalism always influenced, but it influenced by facts and deep, contextual, nuanced reporting.” 

Karen Rundlet became the new executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News in January. She discusses how INN’s network of more than 450 independent news organizations across North America are connecting with their communities to identify and generate a sustainable revenue stream.

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