An initiative by Voice of San Diego to bring membership programs to media outlets is picking up enough steam that it’s being spun off into a separate nonprofit. The News Revenue Hub has helped five news organizations raise more than $1 million in member-driven revenue.
News organizations are increasingly relying on membership programs to pay the bills. And now what began as a pilot project of one news outlet is spinning off into an standalone nonprofit to help more media organizations develop sustainable membership-based revenue.
The News Revenue Hub launched last year, a project of the nonprofit news outlet Voice of San Diego. In its first six months, it helped five media organizations raise more than $1 million in membership revenue, according to the group’s website.
In comments to Journalism.co.uk, Mary Walter-Brown, the former Voice publisher who is leading the News Revenue Hub, said that strong publisher interest was a driving factor behind the spin-off.
“When we launched in November, it was such a serendipitous time to be starting a membership program because there was so much additional interest in news around the election,” she said. “But that interest continued for the next five months. We knew that people in San Diego would respond because they had been supporting us over the last five years, but it was rewarding to see that it was the same in many different markets across the country.”
The first five members of the group were InsideClimate News, NJ Spotlight, Honolulu Civil Beat, The Lens, and PolitiFact. Five more joined early this year: The Intercept, The Rivard Report, The Marshall Project, Youth Radio, and CALmatters.
To help its member outlets build their own membership programs for readers, the News Revenue Hub is using a combination of a splashy launch mixed with long-term drip campaigns designed to catch potential members who have read content from different media sources. In some cases, local events for members sweeten the deal.
This approach has worked well for many of the outlets so far. In the first three weeks of the Trump administration, for example, PolitiFact raised $105,000. It has since increased that total to $200,000, according to Nieman Lab. (It tied the launch of its membership program to the inauguration; the other organizations launched their programs in December.)
Membership tiers vary based on the needs of individual organizations. PolitiFact‘s starting tier is $50 per year, going up to $500. NJ Spotlight, which has attracted $86,000 in donations, has tiers that start at $35.
Brown said a key goal of the News Revenue Hub is to deepen engagement with its existing audience and to attract new readers (an objective that will sound familiar to association professionals).
“We’ve been talking to audiences in each of these markets for six months now, so the people who have received these messages have probably already signed up,” Brown told Journalism.co.uk. “We need to become equally focused on getting new people into the pipeline, turning those casual readers into newsletter subscribers, or getting commenters in that pipeline somehow so that we can start to talk to them in a more personal way via email.”
The organization, which is being funded by foundation support, hopes to add five more organizations by the end of the year.