News Sustainability & Business Models

The traditional business models for journalism have collapsed, and most of the current revenue models in the industry are unsustainable. Despite their digital growth, 80 to 90 percent of newspaper revenues still come from print—even after the steep decline of print advertising and circulation and almost 20 years of investment in digital media. As traditional newsrooms shrink and even disappear, the information landscape for Americans is bleak. A recent Pew study shows that 21 states do not have a single local daily newspaper with its own dedicated congressional correspondent.

To address this crisis, the Shorenstein Center produces original research on sustainable business models for the digital age, and works closely with legacy and emerging news organizations to put the theories into practice—creating a cycle of research, implementation, and learning.

Single Subject News Project

In October 2017 the Center launched its Single Subject News Project to provide news outlets with training and best practices on how to find, build, and engage audiences. The project has been working with a cohort of nine newsrooms. The War Horse, The Marshall Project, The Trace, Chalkbeat, and The Hechinger Report cover veteran’s issues, criminal justice, gun violence, local education news, and innovation and inequality in education, respectively. The cohort also includes ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, and The Center for Public Integrity, as investigative and nonprofit models with broader coverage areas.

During the first phase of the project, researchers gathered metrics from participating news outlets and assessed audience development plans, staffing, technology, and funding. As of spring 2018, the outlets are working on a performance challenge and will report back on progress. By summer 2018, the Shorenstein Center will act upon these learnings to develop best practice documentation, to be released by summer 2019. Thank you to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for supporting this project.

Follow the Single Subject News Project on Medium.


Small is Beautiful: New Business Models for Digital Media, a case study
June 3, 2019
By Markus Somm, former Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Basler Zeitung newspaper, Basel, Switzerland, and Spring 2019 Shorenstein Fellow

Streaming War Won: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the News
April 29, 2019
By Edward F. O’Keefe, former Senior Vice President for Content Development at CNN and Spring 2019 Shorenstein Fellow

Reinventing Local TV News: Innovative Storytelling Practices to Engage New Audiences
February 12, 2019
By Mike Beaudet, professor of the practice at Northeastern University School of Journalism and an investigative reporter at WCVB-Boston, and John Wihbey, assistant professor of journalism and media innovation at Northeastern University and a Research Associate at the Shorenstein Center

Facebook Friends? The Impact of Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Changes on Nonprofit Publishers
October 25, 2018
By Andrew Gruen, Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Center and Principal Consultant, Working Paper; and Aisha Townes, Data Science Consultant to the Shorenstein Center

Business Models for Local News: A Field Scan
September 6, 2018
By Elizabeth Hansen, Emily Roseman and Matthew Spector of the Shorenstein Center; and Joseph Lichterman of the Lenfest Institute

Funding Journalism, Finding Innovation: Success Stories and Ideas for Creative, Sustainable Partnerships
June 20, 2018
Reported and edited by: Dwight Knell, former consultant, Shorenstein Center; Nina Sachdev, Communications Director, Media Impact Funders; Jessica Clark, Research Director, Media Impact Funders

Funding the News: Foundations and Nonprofit Media
June 18, 2018
By Matthew Nisbet, Professor, John Wihbey, Assistant Professor, Silje Kristiansen, Post-doctoral Associate & Aleszu Bajak, Lecturer at Northeastern University

Playbook for Launching a Local, Nonprofit News Outlet
June 12, 2018
By Adam Fisher, MPP student, Harvard Kennedy School and Adam B. Giorgi, MPP student, Harvard Kennedy School

Case Study of VTDigger: A Rising Star In Nonprofit News
May 21, 2018
By Tim Griggs, Institute for Nonprofit News

Using Data Science Tools for Email Audience Analysis: A Research Guide
October 18, 2017
By Jacque Boltik, Data Science Consultant and Founder, Kingrail Consulting and Nicco Mele, Director, Shorenstein Center