There are underemployed journalists in communities everywhere who know the real stories in their market — who to hold accountable and what needs investigating. All they need are the tools to build a sustainable news outlet.
That’s where Indiegraf comes in.
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Last fall, Indiegraf debuted a new program to address “bootcamp fatigue” among journalist-entrepreneurs. The past few years have seen an explosion in training opportunities for founders who want to learn how to launch or grow an independent news outlet. But for publications with small budgets run by journalists who are often juggling other jobs to pay their rent, they need more than advice about what to do: they need help from people who can roll up their sleeves and help execute.
Our answer to that problem was the Indie Growth Program, a 3-month program for news publishers who are ready to grow with a small grant of $2,500 and campaign-specific audience and revenue support.
Eleven publishers have since completed the program. As we invite new applications for the Indie Growth Program, we want to share their results. For an investment of only $500, publishers doubled their email newsletter subscribers and generated an average of $1,500 in new reader revenue. And 88% of publishers highly ranked their overall experience.
Sound too good to be true? Read on for details of how the program works and results. Or just apply already here.
The idea behind the Indie Growth Program is simple: Indiegraf helps early stage news operations grow their audience and build out reader revenue models. The short-term program allows publishers to test drive Indiegraf’s technology and services before they commit to a long-term partnership with us.
Here is a broad breakdown of the program:
Goal: Increase email subscribers, drive reader revenue, gain audience insights, test new value propositions
Indie Capital: $2,500 in grant money to help grow current subscriber list
Growth sprints: Our team helps execute an email growth campaign and a mini-reader revenue campaign
Product sprints: Our team will help conduct audience research and a product audit, so you get actionable recommendations
Technology: Test our reader revenue tech and strategic support by using a landing page we build
The Indie Growth Program was created during Indiegraf’s 2021 company retreat when our team took a deep dive into what support early stage founders need to accelerate their growth and set themselves up for long term success with Indiegraf. In contrast to our training program, the Indie News Challenge, the Indie Growth Program does not feature weekly seminars or cohorts and instead focuses on executing successful campaigns by adding resources to publishers’ bandwidth. This allows publishers to spend time producing journalism and building communities.
Here are 5 takeaways from the first 11 Indie Growth Program participants:
1. These publishers collectively doubled their email audience during the program, growing from 10,005 to 20,107 subscribers (+101%). Each growth campaign included lead ads funded by $2,500 in Indie Capital grant money. Some publishers did even better than the program average: Sioux Falls Simplified, for example, grew 138% to exceed 2,000 subscribers ahead of the publication’s one-year anniversary.
2. Participants that were in “pre-launch” mode also gained significant growth from the program. Wings, a southwest Washington state local news site, generated its first 1,665 subscribers during the program. The Wren also gained its first 1,000 subscribers in the Kamloops region.
3. Publishers collectively earned $17,416 during mini-reader revenue campaigns, more than tripling their $5,500 combined investment into the program. Wings raised the most of any Indie Growth Program publisher so far, almost $3,700 on a one-time reader revenue campaign.
4. Between the Indie Capital grant money ($2,500 each) and in-kind staff support (approximately $2,500 in value per publisher), participants benefited from a combined $55,000 in Indiegraf resources. And that’s hopefully just the start! Our goal is to continue working with participants after the program concludes, whether we continue supporting growth campaigns or help rebuild their website using our latest reader revenue technology.
5. Among surveyed participants, 88% highly ranked their overall experience with Indiegraf and 75% said they are closer to reaching sustainability than before the program. What is the most beneficial part of the program? These anonymous publisher survey responses shed some light:
“For us, given that we began with a small following, the lead generation was probably the most beneficial for us. We added several hundred newsletter subscribers, and we hope to turn many of those folks into financial supporters down the road.”
“We will use the insights for audience development strategies going forward. It’s been one of our big bottlenecks and we can’t wait to try some new ideas.“
“Indiegraf provided an assessment and attainable goals for continued growth.”
These same participants also shared several ways to improve the program. While the email growth campaigns were successful, the reader revenue campaigns did not reach our intended goals. Publishers also want more help growing in new channels and more actionable audience research.
This feedback will benefit future publishers, because we are only successful when program participants are successful. That is why our team shares in the growth victories and learns from each missed campaign goal. We learn a lot from each publisher we work with, not only in terms of specific challenges but also through working in new markets. Each participant brings in a new perspective that helps the program (and Indiegraf) evolve.
We’re renewing our push for Indie Growth Program participants because we have seen how much of a difference it can make for small publishers. If you’re interested in benefiting from this continually improving program, visit the program page and submit your application. You can also email the publisher success team to schedule an introductory meeting.
In recent years, I started to notice a lot about how the world moves and what moves us as humans. As most transformations do, this started with a trip: I left my home in Mexico to explore South America. This became a journey into myself as well as a journey into my roots: I discovered I knew very little about my country, and much less about my continent. It was essential for me to look southward, since all my life I had been facing north. As I turned my eyes toward Central and South America, I was surprised by how much I still had to learn about humanity, dignity, and togetherness.
I started to learn about the social movements that roar in all corners of the hemisphere and give voice to the voiceless (the Earth included). I fell in love with that strength and passion and decided to leave the art world to work on social and environmental impact instead. Yet, as a Spanish bilingual writer and translator, I noticed there were a lot of concepts that were not translatable and therefore not usable in my English communication.
Today, I share with you some key concepts from Latin American activism that could inspire your modern journalism:
Literal translation:To embody Definition: The political act of showing up, physically, for the fight.
Over the past few years, social media has become an increasingly important tool for social movements. It allows us to speak up on a personal level, as well as to amplify the voices of those who are speaking up for themselves.
But how do we translate our on-screen support into on-the-ground action? And, just as importantly, how do we reclaim the human connections needed to survive the fight? Latin American activism tells us: by embodying it.
The verb acuerpar (to embody)refers to the political act of showing up, in person, for the fight. Putting our bodies where our tweets are, and coming together to demand whatever needs demanding, or to protect whatever needs protecting.
This political act of “embodiment” serves two purposes: on one hand, it gives physicality to the fight, which gathers public attention and puts pressure on institutions. But it also brings us together and allows us to feel supported and understood. It allows us to gather strength from each other and regain some vigor to continue fighting, even when it feels like we have nothing else to give.
In the words of Mayan community feminist Lorena Cabnal, “Acuerpamiento or acuerpar [refers to] the personal and collective action wherein our bodies, outraged by the injustices experienced by other bodies, self-convene to provide themselves with political energy. [This act of gathering] generates affective and spiritual energies. It provides us with closeness and collective indignation but also revitalization and new strength, so that we may recover joy without losing indignation.”
How to bring it into community journalism: When covering protests or public demonstrations, pay attention to how participants are interacting with each other. Maybe even interview a couple of attendees: how does it feel to be there, chanting in unison? A lot happens when people come together for a common cause, and there’s a lot of humanity to be found in collectivity.
Literal translation: Accompaniment Definition: Set of practices built to provide company to individuals in their legal or political journeys
When something happens to us, when we are subjected to a crime or an injustice, the main course of action is to involve whichever institution is meant to deal with it. But our pain, our fear, doesn’t end once we file a report.
We’re human, and legal action doesn’t necessarily provide any comfort to our humanity. Moreover, most institutional interactions can be long and complicated, not to mention the risk of revictimizing and dehumanizing. Acompañamientos are all those practices that attend to the humanity of the person or individual that has been the victim of a crime. In short, to provide acompañamiento is to be there for the person, be it in terms of psychological support or of ongoing, case-specific legal and bureaucratic council — or, most commonly, both.
There are several different types of “accompaniment” in Latin American activism: a woman can accompany another woman in her abortion process by sharing all the relevant information (medical, logistical, legal) as well as by talking through what they’re feeling and offering moral support. An organization can accompany an immigrant family by providing advice on all the legal matters as well as by getting them in touch with local shelters, or looking for alternative housing options when there is no availability at the local shelter.
It is, essentially, covering the human needs that institutions can’t (or won’t) cover and putting a name and a face on the need — an actual human.
How to bring it into community journalism: By sharing the work of local activists or organizations. Is there a local shelter that is offering group therapy for people experiencing homelessness? Interview them! The more people who know about these resources, the easier it will be to embrace them.
Literal translation: Radical tenderness Definition: To recognize and embrace each other’s vulnerability as part of the fight
Behind every protest, every public demonstration, there are difficult life stories. The injustices that give rise to social movements are far from theoretical: they actually happened, and they happened to someone.
Radical tenderness is about recognizing even the strongest and loudest member of the movement can be, and will be, plagued by trauma, grief and fear. That’s why it’s important to embrace that vulnerability, that potential fragility, as part of the fight. It is also about taking each other’s pain into our own hands, recognizing it as the fire that gives power to the movement.
How to bring it into community journalism: By sharing the personal stories of those involved in local movements: what brought them here and how they have been impacted by the issue. The more we understand the personal experiences that give rise to social movements, the easier it will be for us to understand their complexity.
When it comes to telling people’s stories, remembering their humanity is an essential part of the story. The terms shared here come from a strictly activist sphere, yet they can help us better understand both personal and collective stories: why people come together and how they carry the fight. I hope these terms help you reimagine what community journalism can look like.
For the past two years, Indiegraf has helped over 50 established and startup publishers across North America grow their business through technology, marketing, and revenue growth support. However, being independent publishers ourselves, we realize a lack of capital can stifle progress for these outlets. That is why we created Indie Capital, a program that provides funding to small publishers who are pioneering new business models with Indiegraf’s support.
Back in December, we announced our biggest Indie Capital grant round yet. We are happy to announce that Indiegraf recently distributed $500,000 to 13 publications that received up to $50,000 for tech and growth solutions to support them on the path to long-term sustainability. This funding round was made possible through backing from the Meta Journalism Project as well as Indiegraf funders such as New Media Ventures, Spring, Marigold Capital and others.
The 13 grant recipients — narrowed down from 49 applicants — include publications from the U.S. and Canada. The grant money will be used to prove their respective product’s sustainability. To aid in that effort, Indie Capital recipients will receive support from Indiegraf to grow reader revenue and test new revenue streams.
By the numbers
49 publishers applied for grant support
37 publishers participated in introductory interviews
26 publishers short-listed for secondary application process
18 publishers submitted proposals, interviewed by committee
13 publishers selected by Indie Cap committee members
Here is a list of the publishers to receive grant allocations this year, including a description of each publication and the revenue streams Indiegraf intends to support:
The Land: This local, nonprofit news organization led by publisher Lee Chilcote launched in 2020 with a focus on equitable community development in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. Through in-depth solutions journalism, they aim to foster accountability, inform the community, and inspire people to take action. Indiegraf will support The Land with reader revenue, ads and sponsorships.
The Objective: Established in summer 2020 after founder Gabe Schneider couldn’t find a mainstream outlet to run a piece critical of the way protests were covered. After the post went viral on Medium, he and several other journalists started this media criticism website to better account for race, gender, class, disability and sexuality. Indiegraf will support The Objective with reader revenue and major gifts.
Tone Madison: Covering culture and politics in Madison, Wisconsin, since 2014, emphasizing overlooked voices through in-depth, on-the ground reporting and commentary. Tone Madison co-founder Scott Gordon said the publication treats culture as a serious, complex subject that intersects with a multitude of other issues. Indiegraf will support Tone Madison with reader revenue, ads and sponsorships.
Kansas City Defender: Founded in July 2021 as a nonprofit digital startup from founder Ryan Sorrell, producing news, digital tools and public services for Black people in Missouri and Kansas. The Gen Z-focused outlet’s primary coverage areas include education, justice, business, arts, culture and technology. Indiegraf will support Kansas City Defender with reader revenue, ads and sponsorships.
The Flatlander: Founded in late 2021 to chronicle the people, culture and environment that make the Canadian Prairies exceptional. Publisher Kelly-Anne Riess delivers untold stories and nuanced coverage on complex issues in the Saskatchewan and Manitoba provinces amid shrinking local newsrooms. Indiegraf will support The Flatlander with reader revenue, ads and sponsorships.
Constellation Media: This mission-driven, local outlet based in British Columbia includes two British Columbia publications: Tri-Cities Dispatch since February 2021 and The Ridge since last August. Publisher James Coccola and the team aim to build a sustainable local model that pays journalists fairly. Indiegraf will support Constellation Media with reader revenue, direct ad sales and sponsorships.
On top of those new publications, 7 existing Indiegraf publisher partners received grant allocations as part of an extension to continue working together:
Shasta Scout: Non-profit independent online news service, Shasta Scout tells local stories that build democracy, with a focus on increasing trust in the news from within a highly polarized community. Since its launch in 2021, they have published over 100 stories about land use, the environment, Indigenous communities, government accountability and political and religious extremism. Indiegraf will support Shasta Scout with reader revenue and major gifts.
The Palm Springs Post: As one of the first U.S.-based publishers to start working with Indiegraf, founder Mark Talkington delivers local Palm Springs, California, news every weekday since launching in February 2021. The publication has quickly grown to 6,000+ subscribers with plans to expand into the Coachella Valley. Indiegraf will support The Palm Springs Post with reader revenue, direct ad sales and sponsorships.
IndigiNews: Indigenous stories told by Indigenous people who live in or near the communities they cover. Business Aunty Eden Fineday said IndigiNews looks for positive and relevant stories that demonstrate Indigenous strength, resiliency and beauty, attracting 15,000 email subscribers since launching in 2020. Indiegraf will support IndigiNews with reader revenue, direct ad sales and sponsorships.
The Breach: Built in 2020 in response to a Canadian establishment media that won’t tell it like it is by publisher Dru Jay. This independent media outlet produces critical investigative reporting and analysis at the national level featuring voices and perspectives not heard elsewhere on issues underreported by other outlets. Indiegraf will support The Breach with reader revenue and major gifts.
The Discourse: Founded in 2014, the Vancouver-area publication has since focused its coverage area in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and Nanaimo. Editor Jacqueline Ronson has helped grow its subscriber base beyond 10,000 readers by producing in-depth work that reflects the local communities served. Indiegraf will support The Discourse with reader revenue, direct ad sales and sponsorships.
The Independent: Established in 2003 as a newspaper and moved online in 2011, The Independent has built a trusted brand and relationship over time in Newfoundland and Labrador. Editor in chief Drew Brown brings essential coverage in a market that often lacks in-depth, well-resourced journalism. Indiegraf will support The Independent with reader revenue and a new events calendar.
Sun Peaks Independent News: Celebrating 20 years as the only local news source in Sun Peaks, British Columbia, publisher Brandi Schier converted the newspaper into a digital outlet in 2020 to help ensure the operation’s long-term sustainability and continue to serve readers as well as visitors to the popular tourism destination. Indiegraf will support Sun Peaks Independent News with reader revenue and major gifts.
This Indie Capital funding round represents the latest investments we’re making in Indie Capital. Later this year, we plan to roll out other funding opportunities for community news publishers across North America that are committed to providing equitable coverage in communities experiencing news poverty.
If you have your own outlet and didn’t apply or advance this round, we encourage you to subscribe to the Indie Publisher newsletter to make sure you hear about future grant opportunities!
The publication is a nonprofit weekly newspaper intertwined with the lives of people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Founded in 1999, Street Roots centers its content on social and environmental justice issues.
“I think being a newspaper that focuses on inequity, my focus is to ensure that we’re interviewing folks who are most impacted by any given issue,” said K. Rambo, editor in chief of Street Roots.
For example, if the outlet is running a story about homelessness, Rambo said they’re going to ensure they interview someone with that lived experience, a standard practice not always followed by other local outlets.
“There are a lot of stories that are commonly published in the city that talk about homelessness but don’t interview anyone who has lived or is currently living on the streets,” Rambo said.
Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, said there are more opportunities for Street Roots to raise money as a nonprofit. They are funded by grants, sponsorships and individual donors, who “make up the lion-share of the funding” with those donations making up 40% of the general operating budget.
There is a donation link on the Street Roots website that goes into a general fund, driving the newspaper’s largest single funding source. There are also instances of use-restricted funding, Rambo said, usually in the form of journalism grants, which help reduce the editorial impact on the overall budget.
They are also working on their first ever newspaper fundraising drive.
“The drive centers on showcasing some of the important stories published by Street Roots since April 2021 and asks readers to donate in support of our continued work,” they said.
The organization has a general operating budget with certain amounts allocated to different departments, which are mainly staffing costs. Rambo said the newspaper consists of three full-time staff members and a full-time fellowship position. The staff have backgrounds as professional journalists who previously produced work for The Oregonian, the Los Angeles Times and Oregon Public Broadcasting. The majority of the staff also experienced homelessness, including Rambo.
Although the staff is smaller than people may realize, Rambo said they are in a growth phase. Along with donations and seasonal fundraising drives, the newspaper also makes money on traditional advertising and its vendor program.
Each week, about 200 vendors — mostly consisting of people experiencing homelessness and poverty, see profiles here and here — purchase copies of the newspaper for $0.25 and sell the issues back to readers for $1, keeping all the profits and tips. During the course of the year, Street Roots works with 800 vendors, around 75% of which are unhoused.
There are also other employment opportunities for their vendors to become ambassadors, Sand said. Ambassadors can be trained in journalism or get experience working on the nonprofit side of the organization.
“They’re paid to do that and learn skills,” Sand said. “From those ways, we also help people get into other jobs. The organization has all these aspects, but [is] tightly formed around nonprofit media.”
Although the bulk of Street Roots readers are middle-aged and above the poverty line, Rambo said it is common to receive reactions from grateful readers who are experiencing homelessness or poverty who say they have never read a story similar to their own.
“[The] feedback about Street Roots covering those gaps locally,” they said, “that’s a rewarding piece of information to have.”
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