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Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center launches project to help single-subject news sites better engage audiences with $683,000 from Knight Foundation

Cambridge, Mass. – Oct. 4, 2017 – To provide news outlets that produce coverage on single topics with training and best practices on how to find, build and engage audiences, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, based at Harvard Kennedy School, is launching a new two-year initiative with $683,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“As beat reporting has declined in traditional newsrooms, online news outlets devoted to in-depth coverage of specific subjects—such as The Marshall Project and Chalkbeat—have helped fill the gaps,” said Shorenstein Center Director Nicco Mele. “These outlets produce important, compelling work—but because this model is new, there are still many questions about how to build and engage audiences, and how to grow revenue. The goal of this project is to work closely with our partner news organizations to determine what works, and then share those findings widely.”

The first group of participating news outlets include:

  • Chalkbeat: A nonprofit news organization covering public education through the lens of local communities, with reporters on the ground in five communities and growing.
  • The Hechinger Report: An independent, nonprofit newsroom that covers inequality and innovation in education.
  • The Marshall Project: A nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.
  • ProPublica: An independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative and accountability journalism.
  • The Texas Tribune: A nonpartisan organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
  • The Trace: A nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism startup dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun violence crisis.
  • The War Horse: A nonprofit newsroom focused on covering the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

“Ensuring that in-depth, quality journalism on issues that matter to communities continues to thrive and grow is vital to building more informed and engaged communities. This project will establish a set of best practices to help news organizations focused on single subjects find and build a dedicated audience, while better understanding community needs and preferences,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

In the first phase of the project, researchers will gather metrics from participating news outlets and assess current audience development and engagement plans, staffing, technology, and funding. News outlets will identify a performance challenge to address and then report back on progress. By summer 2018, the Shorenstein Center will begin the second phase of the project, which will include developing best practice documentation, tools and training, to be released by summer 2019.

The Shorenstein Center will also collaborate with other Knight grantees who are working on similar research: the Social Journalism program at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 The project team includes: Nicco Mele, Shorenstein Center Director and former senior vice president and deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times; David Beard, research fellow, and former executive editor of PRI.org, editor of boston.com, deputy editor-in-chief of National Journal, and digital content director for The Washington Post; and Emily Roseman, research project coordinator.

Funding for the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to advance the practice of journalistic excellence through experimentation, innovation and leadership. Knight has made many investments in this area, including the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, which aims to help advance digital transformation at local news organizations across the country.

About the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy
The Shorenstein Center is a research center based at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, with a mission to study and analyze the power of media and technology and its impact on governance, public policy, and politics. Research, courses, fellowships, public events, and engagement with students, scholars, and journalists form the core of the Center. For more information, visit shorensteincenter.org/.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.


Nilagia McCoy, Communications Director, Shorenstein Center, 617-495-2233, nilagia_mccoy@hks.harvard.edu

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, media@knightfoundation.org