Really nice profile of Hewlett Foundation grantee The Texas Tribune on the occasion of its fifth anniversary. Justin Ellis at Nieman Journalism Lab on the innovative business model they’re using to fund cutting edge public-interest journalism and the challenges that still lie ahead:
The Tribune was created to be different from the start. Combine the instincts of a reporter with the guile of a door-to-door salesman and throw in an appetite for experimentation — today, on the site’s fifth anniversary, it looks like those instincts have paid off. The staff has collected plenty of accolades for its journalism, having been recognized with the Sidney Hillman Award, Edward R. Murrow Award, IRE Award, and others. It’s averaging nearly 3 million pageviews a month. It’s on or atop any list of America’s most successful nonprofit news outlets. The reporting staff and coverage only continues to grow; it’s hiring a Washington correspondent, paid for through a $350,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Grants like that are part of why the Tribune’s business is on sound footing. In five years, the Tribune has raised nearly $27 million to support its work. While the business of journalism today offers less stability than ever before, the Tribune has been able to build a measure of security through a mix of philanthropy, donations, and sponsorships. But success brings spectators, and the Tribune’s business model has many trying to clone it and others continuing to question it.
“The reality is we’re a going concern,” says Evan Smith, the Tribune’s CEO and editor-in-chief. “We’re past the point of being able to get away with not being able to execute at the highest levels because we’re a startup.”
Which is why, five years in, with the ledger looking good and the journalism running strong, the big question for the Tribune is: How do they find more readers?