Local Seattle News Site, Crosscut, May Switch to Nonprofit Model To Pay the Bills

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The 6-person board has recommended that the company switch to a non-profit model, but that a final decision has to be approved by the 25-person investment group, Brewster says. It’s possible that Taylor will be called back to run a stronger version of the site in two or three months, he says. The site will continue for the time being with five of its seven core employees, and its roster of 40 freelancers, Brewster says.

Still, I wanted to know a little more about the model, and why it hasn’t worked. First, Crosscut didn’t really try to sell many ads in its first year, while it was building up its readership base and doing surveys, Brewster says. Once it hit a stride, it targeted ads at companies that would like to get their names in front of a politically influential demographic, as well as arts patrons, Brewster says. It drew some interest from wineries and country inns. For a while, condominium advertising was a bright spot, but that has been a casualty of the downturn, he says. The advertisers were sold one-month packages with rates based on 50,000 impressions, Brewster says, a similar model to the one used by mainstream newspaper web sites.

Crosscut is now looking at ways to diversify its revenue streams, so it isn’t solely dependent on online advertising. One option is to host conferences, possibly with other civic-minded organizations like Town Hall. Another is to go the nonprofit route, soliciting support from readers through small donations. Foundations and wealthy individuals could also be part of the mix, Brewster says. Ultimately, he can envision a nonprofit news source, with a variety of revenue streams, with as much as half of its revenue coming from online ads.

A few models are emerging that are at least producing quality journalism, if not Rupert Murdoch-style profit margins. One is VoiceofSanDiego, another is MinnPost in Minneapolis. VoiceofSanDiego has created some interesting partnerships with local television, in which it gives the station a day’s notice when it has a big scoop, giving the station’s reporters a chance to get some film and do some of their own reporting, and allowing everyone to break the story simultaneously, and amplify it. Brewster is thinking about a similar idea for Seattle.

“The dream here is to do something for Seattle, at the local level, that has the kind of quality you see in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, to be able to bring it home locally,” he says. Something like this can be feasible in a nonprofit with an annual budget of $800,000 to $1.2 million a year, he says. “That sounds good to me,” Brewster says. He adds, “We’ll see how well we do in raising it.”

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