Today, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced twenty-six new recipients of its Sustainable Publishing Solutions Grant (SPS). 

This grant, which is in its second year, is aimed at helping newsrooms leverage their publishing platforms to grow their audience and increase revenue. Each publication will receive a one-time investment of $20,000 that can go towards the adoption of a new content management system (CMS) or expansion of their existing one.  

“This is a unique opportunity that allows newsrooms to place their technical infrastructure at the forefront of their growth,” said Senior VP of Business Development Christina Shih. “The pandemic required publishers to not only change how they respond to reader needs, but also adjust internal production workflows — and this grant helps them make those innovations permanent.”

A changing media landscape  

Our experience with this grant over the past two years has allowed us to see the changing ways that newsrooms view their CMS.  Last year, the majority of grantees used the funds to adopt a better CMS. This year, 62% of the selected newsrooms will invest the funds in analytics, user experience, and monetization.

“With every application there was an understanding of the need to have a powerful back-end system that I don’t think was common five to ten years ago,” said Courtney Hurtt, Program Manager of NewsMatch and one of this year’s reviewers. “Oftentimes the technology behind the news was really an afterthought to the editorial content itself. What we saw in these applications was an advanced understanding of how the CMS also helps you sustain your organization.” 

A handful of statewide investigative outlets plan to use their grants to invest in CMS improvements that will benefit their readers, donors, media partners, and their own staff. For example, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, Wisconsin Watch, and Spotlight PA all plan to make user experience upgrades to enhance their current sites for readers and donors. By strategically improving their site features, these organizations intend to grow both audience reach and revenue through their CMS, all while improving workflows on the backend. 

Hyperlocal organizations in Oakland and Detroit have slightly different plans for strategic improvements using the SPS grant. The organizations have been serving their readers effectively via text message and now seek to expand into new systems that will provide more functionality for both readership and fundraising. El Tímpano, which reports on Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrant communities, plans to launch a new CMS to showcase their unique content, to improve their reach, and to cultivate more support from individual donors and grants. In Detroit, Outlier Media also plans to build a new and improved website for their multimedia content, making the site more accessible to readers and optimized to generate revenue.

When it comes to a changing media landscape, there are grantees this year that address those changes in a more literal way. Ojai Valley News, a Southern California based organization and the only source of local news in their community will receive a grant to upgrade and extend their existing websites to improve functionality and to serve readers in a would-be news desert. The Rafu Shimpo, the last bilingual news organization serving the Japanese population of Los Angeles, will similarly invest in both audience and revenue growth by making much-needed improvements to their existing site. Finally, QCity Metro is responding to a rapidly growing city by creating a database and interactive guide that spotlights Black businesses and community resources in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Selecting the Grantees 

The News Revenue Hub was tapped by the Knight Foundation to manage the SPS application process for a second year. We assembled a team of eight reviewers who each brought unique insight to the evaluation process. Given the intersectional quality of the grant, our experts  deeply understand nonprofits, startups, product development, technology, and revenue. Applications were judged on the overall strength of the application, their readiness to receive funding, and the potential impact on the industry. 

Tony Elkins, Director of Innovation at Gannett was looking for two different things. “First…I was looking for organizations that filled a journalism need in their community, and needed the right tech stack to continue its mission. The second was looking for organizations that had a really interesting use-case they wanted to experiment with.”

While there was a wide range of projects and goals of each application, the strongest applications demonstrated a clear vision and preparation. 

“It was easy to see who researched their needs, knew where the gaps were and exactly how the grant would be used. It was apparent [when] candidates had not done their homework, or were just hoping to supplement their budget with a grant,” said Elkins.  

Other quick tips from our reviewers: 

  • Go deep and be specific. Courtney says, “Go beyond the basics of needing a CMS to distribute your content and really think about features you would adopt. Be clear about why you identified those elements as accelerators for your larger strategic goals and the mission of your organization.”
  • Along those lines, Tony says, “Understand how the ask you are making [in your application] will integrate with your existing technology, future upgrades, and most importantly, how it will better aid in your organization’s mission to serve readers.”
  • Familiarize yourself with trends that are taking place in the industry. “Success looks like diligently seeking professional guidance of where and how to best apply these funds in the most impactful way. The more aware these publishers are of new industry practices, the closer they will be to deploying gainful strategies,” says Michael Grant, Founder of Get Current Studio. 

Looking ahead to next year 

The Sustainable Publishing Solutions grant will once again be available to publishers next year. If you have never thought about investing in your CMS and back-end solutions, consider this piece of advice from Michael: 

“In the past year, I’ve spoken with numerous publishers about digital transformation. It’s clear: Technical work comes with a price tag that is often out of reach for many local and ethnic media publishers. This grant reduces the barrier of entry to having the kind of digital infrastructure that meets the standards of today’s web. The end result is news that reaches the communities in a time when local news is under duress.”

With that, let’s thank the review panel and get to know this year’s grantees: : 

  • Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, Phoenix, AZ 
    The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting is an independent, nonpartisan and collaborative nonprofit newsroom dedicated to statewide, data-driven investigative reporting. AZCIR will use Knight support to optimize the website user experiences for readers, subscribers and donors, and partner newsrooms, as well as cultivating and expanding their members and donors.
  • Black Voice News, Riverside, CA
    The 49-year-old Black Voice News shines a light on systemic inequities and disparities through solutions-oriented, data-driven journalism empowering informed action in California. Black Voice News will use Knight support to optimize its Newspack content integration and user experience.
  • Borderless Magazine, Chicago, IL
    Borderless Magazine is a women- and BIPOC-run nonprofit news outlet reimagining immigration journalism with a lens on justice. The newsroom will use Knight support to make its website more accessible to its Spanish and Arabic-speaking audiences, grow membership and build a donor base. 
  • Charlottesville Tomorrow, Charlottesville, VA 
    Charlottesville Tomorrow delivers in-depth reporting and analysis to improve local decision-making in the greater Charlottesville area. The newsroom will use Knight support to advance their digital publishing platform and grow their audience, with the specific focus of reaching Black and Spanish-speaking audiences.
  • The Community Voice, Wichita, KS 
    The Community Voice is a 26-year-old Kansas-based, African-American multimedia publication located in Wichita and serving the state of Kansas and the Kansas City metro area. TCV is the state’s only African-American owned and targeted newspaper. The newsroom will use Knight support to launch a new website that will be user friendly, enhance their newsletter capabilities and their market reach.
  • The Devil Strip, Akron, OH 
    The Devil Strip is a community news cooperative collectively owned and governed by its readers and workers. The Devil Strip will use Knight support to upgrade its site for a clean, user-friendly experience that advances opportunities for reader and member engagement and makes client services easier to access.
  • El Tímpano, San Francisco, CA 
    El Tímpano — Spanish for “eardrum”— informs, engages and amplifies the voices of Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrants. The newsroom will use Knight support to design and launch a new website that can help reach new audiences and donors. 
  • Growing Community Media, Oak Park, IL 
    Growing Community Media publishes independent, hyperlocal community journalism online and in print in 9 communities on the west side of Chicago and in its near suburbs, including Austin Weekly News, Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review and Riverside Brookfield Landmark. These four publications will use Knight support to maintain their newly-launched websites, optimize advertising and develop a website for the nonprofit ownership organization.
  • Houston Defender Network, Houston, TX 
    Founded in 1930, the Houston Defender is Houston’s leading Black information source, serving Harris, Ft. Bend and Brazoria counties. The newsroom will use Knight support to streamline the redesign of its website, create targeted audience channel pages, and launch and design newsletters associated with the new channels.
  • KGNU Community Radio, Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins, CO 
    KGNU Radio is a community-powered radio station dedicated to amplifying community, culture, and music by airing diverse voices and perspectives. We prioritize building and maintaining a robust pipeline of volunteer producers to be part of the local media landscape. KGNU will use Knight support to design and launch a new website that advances user experience, grows the station’s digital acumen, and becomes a stream of revenue.
  • The Marjorie, Gainesville, FL
    The Marjorie is a nonprofit newsroom that promotes a greater understanding of issues related to the environment, social justice and women in Florida through storytelling and community building. The newsroom will use Knight support to integrate a newsletter publisher into its content management system, understand its existing audience and build new ways for audience engagement.
  • Maryland Matters, Takoma Park, MD
    Maryland Matters is the premier site for news about Maryland government and politics. The newsroom will use Knight support to boost its user experience by upgrading its content management system.
  • The Mendocino Voice, Mendocino County, CA
    The Mendocino Voice is an independent online news outlet founded in 2016 to provide useful news for all of Mendocino County, Calif. The newsroom will use Knight support to build and launch a new website that advances a better user experience and builds member and client revenue.
  • Ojai Valley News, Ojai, CA
    The Ojai Valley News has been the journal of record for California’s Ojai Valley since 1891. The newsroom will use Knight support to migrate its website to a new content management system and improve its community reach and reader experience.
  • Outlier Media, Detroit, MI 
    Outlier Media is a Detroit-based service journalism organization that identifies, reports, and delivers valuable information to empower residents to hold landlords, municipal government and elected officials accountable for longstanding problems. The newsroom will use Knight support to build a new website that showcases multimedia stories, increasing the value of Outlier’s investigative and accountability reporting. Outlier will also integrate its SMS text message reporting service into the new website.
  • Plainsman Herald, Springfield, CO
    The Plainsman Herald, established in 1887, is a rural weekly newspaper serving Baca County, Colo. and surrounding areas. The newsroom will use Knight support to build and design a new website, building a better digital product that engages the local community. 
  • Prison Journalism Project, Chicago, IL 
    Prison Journalism Project is a national, independent, nonpartisan initiative that trains incarcerated writers in the tools of journalism and helps them reach an outside audience through partnerships with media organizations. The organization will use Knight support to build a new website, build multimedia content and reach new donors.
  • QCity Metro, Charlotte, NC
    Founded in 2008, QCity Metro provides news and information relevant to Black communities in Charlotte, NC. It was among the nation’s first digital-only platforms created to serve a local, Black audience. The newsroom will use Knight support to add a resource and lifestyle portal to its existing WordPress site, create a variety of directories, guides and interactive maps themed for Charlotte’s Black communities, and drive initial engagement and new streams of revenue.
  • The Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles, CA 
    Established in 1903, The Rafu Shimpo is a bilingual Japanese-English language newspaper, and the longest running Japanese American daily newspaper in the United States. The newsroom will use Knight support for the launch of a new website that also allows readers to purchase print and digital subscriptions, make donations and sign-up for newsletters.
  • Southerly, Louiseville, KY
    Southerly is an independent, nonprofit media organization that covers the intersection of ecology, justice, and culture in the American South. Through partnerships with local newsrooms across the region, they produce stories aimed at rural, BIPOC, and low-wealth audiences, and collaborate with non-journalism organizations to ensure information is accessible and useful. The organization will use Knight support to redesign and launch a new site that highlights membership and partnership opportunities and reaches new audiences.
  • Spotlight PA, Philadelphia, PA 
    Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to producing investigative journalism about the Pennsylvania state government and urgent statewide issues. The newsroom will use Knight support to streamline its content management system, advance the sharing and distribution of content, and increase its revenue streams.
  • The Sacramento Observer, Sacramento, CA
    Established in 1962, the Sacramento Observer Newspaper is the legacy Black newspaper in Sacramento, California. The newsroom will use Knight support to optimize its content management system and use of images and other digital assets across the platform.
  • Truthout, Sacramento, CA 
    Truthout is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to providing independent reporting and commentary on a diverse range of social justice issues. The newsroom will use Knight support to improve its user experience, support its donor pipeline, analyze reader engagement and build revenue.
  • Voice of San Diego, San Diego, CA
    Voice of San Diego delivers ground-breaking investigative journalism for the San Diego region. The publication will use Knight support to rebuild its existing Salesforce plugin and increase reader conversions from its newsletter.
  • Washington City Paper, Washington, DC
    Since 1981, Washington City Paper has served the growing community of Washington DC. The newspaper will use Knight support to streamline the workflow for building its print editions, improve its events listing tool and add in the capability to export content into a ready-to-print format. 
  • Wisconsin Watch, Madison, WI
    The nonpartisan, nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism increases the quality and quantity of investigative reporting in Wisconsin while training current and future investigative journalists. The newsroom will use Knight support to manage and take full advantage of the audience, donor growth, and enhanced user experience opportunities available with the Newspack content management system.