We know your inbox is already full of industry newsletters that tell you what’s wrong with journalism. We’ll let other smart people handle media criticism. We’re here to focus on a new path forward for digital newsrooms, one that relies on building bridges to connect people, instead of putting up walls that inevitably shut them out. 

Since we launched in November of 2016, the News Revenue Hub has worked with over 70 newsrooms to help them adopt a new business model built on trust, transparency and relationships — not transactions. 

To date, we’ve helped our newsrooms raise over $54 million in volunteer donations. Together, we’ve proven that consumers will voluntarily support the production of news and information they value and trust.

In 2021, Hub newsrooms earned an average of $334,000 in contributions from individual donors with an average annual gift amount of $125.  To put that in context, $334,000 could cover three to five staff positions in most small digital newsrooms. Membership is becoming a viable and reliable source of revenue for these news organizations and it’s growing each year.

Those data nuggets are just the tip of the iceberg! Each month, our Beyond the Paywall editor Stacy Fernández will lead you through more of our key learnings and success stories. We’ll showcase forward-thinking digital newsrooms that are achieving their mission and revenue goals by deploying strategies to reach more diverse audiences, build loyalty and inspire long-term financial support. 

We’ll also provide you updates on labs, specials projects and custom products we’re developing to meet the needs of the industry. 

If you want to learn more about our unique vantage point “beyond the wall” and into the business model of community-centered newsrooms, shoot me an email. And if you know someone who might be interested in our work, please encourage them to join our email list.

Thanks!

Mary Walter-Brown
Founder and CEO
News Revenue Hub

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Key Data and Learnings from 2021 🧐

Written by Stacy Fernández, Data by Rachel Glickhouse

We suspected 2021 was unlikely to match 2020 in terms of the record breaking spikes in traffic and donations that sprang from the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, protests for racial justice and a polarizing presidential election. 

If 2020 was the year of unbridled organic growth, we saw 2021 as the year of retention.

As traffic was spiking in 2020, we put strategies in place to help our publishers make sure they were building a strong relationship with their new readers in the midst of the chaos, establishing a bond that would last beyond the pandemic. From a personal welcome series, to monthly emails linking their reporting to community impact, our newsrooms worked diligently to make a lasting connection with their readers. And, the proof is in the numbers. Across the news sector, North American publishers saw a 23% decline in traffic from 2020 to 2021, according to Chartbeat. Within the Hub, traffic dipped an average of just 9%. 

Get this: even though traffic decreased, we saw email lists and membership revenue go up. Hub-wide, newsrooms increased their annual revenue by 57%.

It wasn’t just high-profile national organizations making strides in membership; we saw increases across the board, in both regional and local newsrooms. 

Here’s a snapshot of how Hub newsrooms performed in key areas last year, with data collected by our Learning & Labs Director, Rachel Glickhouse:

End of year fundraising, aka the membership Olympics, is when all this work comes together. Hub newsrooms raised an average of $75,000 in November and December alone. 

As traffic trends continue to level out in 2022, we recommend prioritizing strong relationship-building with new and current readers. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, it’s all about “loyalty, loyalty, loyalty.” 

⭐️ Member Spotlight ⭐️

How The Trace jumpstarted their membership program

The Trace, a national news site that investigates gun violence in the United States, made huge gains in membership at the end of 2021. In fact, they raised more in the fourth quarter than in the other nine months of the year combined by prioritizing three crucial best practices – email automations, timely topical pitches and a strong year-end campaign.

The Trace has been in the News Revenue Hub since 2019, but, like many small digital newsrooms, they didn’t have the capacity to dedicate as much attention to their membership program as they’d like. 

Last May, the newsroom was selected to participate in the Google News Initiative North America Audience Lab which was led by the Hub. This additional opportunity to focus on the full funnel approach to growing both audience and email subscribers, gave their team the extra boost they needed to think more strategically about increasing membership revenue.  

Seeing the growth potential, The Trace Founding Editor and Managing Director James Burnett doubled down their efforts to execute membership best practices. Working with Hub Senior Project Manager Kerrie Vila, Burnett updated The Trace’s automated welcome and renewal series. That alone raised several thousand dollars in three months. Burnett also worked closely with Hub Project Coordinator Lizzy Hardison to develop a special stewardship email — the first in many months — highlighting a major investigation about The National Rifle Association.

“That did really well considering it was a one off campaign,” said Burnett. “It was a nice little win for us and was more than I could have done on my own.”

That quick win inspired Burnett to get more creative with his year-end fundraising, writing 10 original emails for their two month NewsMatch campaign. In collaboration, Vila provided support by creating segmented emails: one to convert one-time gifts into monthly recurring donations and another targeting loyal readers who had never given. According to Burnett, The Trace’s end-of-year campaign was the most robust so far and included experimentation they wouldn’t have had capacity for without the Hub’s support.

In total, the newsroom’s end-of-year campaign recruited donations from 501 individual donors, 133 of them were brand new to The Trace. 

“The success we had in our 2021 year-end campaign has motivated us to invest in membership revenue growth and great member engagement and stewardship as a year round, core development activity at The Trace,” Burnett said. 

The Trace plans to keep the momentum going throughout 2022. They have established their most ambitious revenue goals to date and have a robust campaign roadmap to keep them on track. 

Welcome to the Hub! 👋🏽

El Paso Matters is the first newsroom to join the Hub in the new year!

El Paso Matters is a member-supported newsroom that uses journalism to expand civic capacity in its region. Their journalists inform and engage with people in El Paso, Ciudad Juarez and neighboring communities to create solutions-driven conversations about complex issues shaping the region. We look forward to helping them build a loyal membership base to sustain their crucial reporting.

Your February to-dos:

At the Hub, we see ourselves as equal parts counselor, personal trainer and friend. That means we’re constantly pushing our newsrooms to stay focused on what moves the needle and lending a helping hand to get them there.

Each month we offer a set of action items to strengthen a newsroom’s approach to membership and audience. Here are some February to-dos: 

👥 Conduct an audience survey. This is one of the best times of the year to launch an audience survey. You’re likely in-between campaigns and our data shows donations tend to drop off in the first few months of the year. With the right questions, a survey can provide critical insights on which to build a strong audience and membership strategy. Tip: Run your survey for 2 weeks or until you have at least 1,000 respondents. 

🧐 Audit your newsletter products. Ever wonder whether your newsletter intro is too long (or too short)? If your subject lines are captivating enough? Whether that’s really the best send time? Take some time to experiment with different elements of your newsletter via A/B testing. Figure out now what your audience best responds to so your newsletter is in top shape to be a fundraising vehicle throughout the year. 

🥅 Set goals for 2022, it’s not too late! Take some time with your team to reflect on 2021 and what you want to achieve in 2022. You should have a North Star goal for the areas you need to focus on, including audience and membership. We especially encourage organizations to have a few “rollup goals” and action items that feed into that main goal. For example, if your North Star goal for membership is to raise $100,000 for the year, your rollup goals could include running three campaigns, doing monthly stewardship emails and developing a plan to optimize your calls to action. 

If you’re a newsroom that needs help with surveys, newsletters or goal-setting, reach out to the Hub. We’ve got you covered!

Come work with us (remotely)! 📍

We have multiple job openings here at the Hub on the consulting, tech, product and Salesforce teams. I can personally attest to the Hub’s kind colleagues, great benefits (healthcare, work from home stipend and unlimited vacation that people actually use) and we’re permanently remote! 

🎨 Product Designer
💻 Frontend Engineer
💻 Full Stack Developer
🗣 Project Coordinator
📊 Salesforce Administrator (Contract)

The Talent Pipeline 🪜

Apply to work with one of our wonderful partner organizations: