NewsMatch's Jason Alcorn: It's Vital To Support Local Journalism

Earlier this year, NewsMatch launched its fourth campaign, connecting donors and foundations with local newsrooms across the country. As this year’s drive comes to a close, NewsMatch’s Jason Alcorn spoke with Publisher’s Dailyabout the importance of local news and why supporting it is important to society’s health.

How is the campaign going this year?

Alcorn: We’re really enthusiastic about how this year’s campaign is going. We took a step back going into this year’s campaign and revisited what a national campaign story would look like and how we would equip almost 200 nonprofit news organizations nationwide to lend their voice to that story.

When you look at the calls to action on Giving News Days around supporting nonprofit news, there was a lot more creativity from participating organizations, using national campaign materials to make more customized materials. Organizations were using templates, our color palettes and the overall messaging and asking: How does this make sense for our community, strategy, potential donors and readers?

How has technology changed the way newsrooms can utilize the drive?

Alcorn: All these organizations are becoming more sophisticated. We did an audit a few years ago through The Institute for Nonprofit News and found it’s hard to donate to newsrooms. We’ve provided pre-tech support to help implement donate pages and donate tools each year of the campaign. Organizations are able to use NewsMatch.org as one of the funnels through which they can accept donations, which helps if they’re not fully set up for the payment process.

Since NewsMatch started, many of these organizations have prioritized the donor experience, which affects how people feel about your organization and their willingness to support and renew their support.

Last year, we also implemented a new member bonus for the first time and we see organizations really embracing that. If someone signs up as a new monthly recurring or sustaining member or donor to a NewsMatch campaign, we match the full first-year value of that membership which allows organizations to build strong cash flow and a predicable revenue stream.

How do you position the importance of nonprofits/local newsrooms to potential partners?

Alcorn: We see local news as something akin to other kinds of civic institutions that communities depend on. When a local newspaper closes — or it’s cut down to the marrow — that has consequences. If you care about the quality of schools, or  the environment, or how your community is growing or not growing, then you have to care about local news.

The Hewlett Foundation is a first-time funder of NewsMatch this year. It selected a number of local news organizations that have dedicated educational reporting to support, which is seen as a vital part of its programing.

The Colorado Media Project, which, in a lot of ways, came out of NewsMatch and a gift-match from the Gates Family Foundations a couple of years ago, is now the organizing force for treating local news as a local good in Colorado. They’re doing so not only with nonprofit news organizations, but independent commercial news organizations as well. Their year-end campaign, in partnership with NewsMatch, supported Colorado-based nonprofit news organizations. It also brought in radio stations that serve some of the Native American tribes in Colorado and some of the local-owned independent newspapers that serve rural parts of the state.

How might NewsMatch expand?

Alcorn: Looking ahead, the number of nonprofit news organizations is going to continue increase rapidly. NewsMatch started in 2016 with 57 nonprofit news organizations participating. We’re at 198 this year. The trend is pretty clear.

That implies a few different things.

One is, there is a significant number of nonprofit news organizations now for whom NewsMatch has been around their entire existence. That means they’re building really good practices around fundraising from the start, and they’re pushing us to continue to provide our resources and to figure out how to support those organizations as they get into year two, three or four.

Two is that the geographic presence of NewsMatch is growing every year. We have, I think, NewsMatch newsrooms in 42 states, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia this year. That means place-based funders, foundations and donors that care about particular states and regions have news organizations they can support through NewsMatch in the places they care about and the topics they care about.

Three, NewsMatch has always been a learning program, including things like giving training and support around local matches, so organizations can go out and secure a match directly from a local donor or from their board of directors. They can then use that as part of NewsMatch, so donors get matched two, or three or four times. A couple of news organizations were doing that work already. We saw it and said we can do this with 154 organizations all at once.

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