The Weekly Ask: Answers to your questions about the news business

The Weekly Ask: Answers to your questions about the news business

This month we launched The Weekly Ask – one short video each week that poses questions to you, our audience. This week’s question:

What’s one thing you want to know about the news business?

Many of you sent in great questions asking how journalism works. We hope our answers can shed some light on what we do. To see the next question in our series, go here.

If you think of something you’d like to ask inewsource, email me any time at shylanott@inewsource.org, or tweet me at (@shylanott).

OK, here are our answers to your questions.

What is the most effective way to develop sources?

– Ken Rawles via Facebook

Answered by Brad Racino, Senior Reporter:

The non-politically correct answer to this question is to smoke cigarettes and drink a lot of booze.

Hear me out.

It’s easy to find good sources when you both share bad habits: smoking cigarettes outside of courthouses, bars, city halls and other gathering places, and drinking until late in the night. Why? Because people need things to chat about when they’re standing in a cloud of smoke, and alcohol does half the work of priming strangers to tell you things.

Thankfully for healthy people there are other ways. If you want someone as a source because of their job — e.g. a police officer or city hall staffer — the best way is to invite them out for coffee (through phone, email, social media) by expressing sincere interest in learning more about them as a person and about their job. Once you meet, keep in touch. The more you talk, the more they’ll trust you – as long as you keep to your word and show them that you are a decent reporter.

If your question was referring to sources who will contact you out of the blue, that’s a three-step process:

  1. Consistently produce work that is thorough, accurate and contextual.
  2. Share that work widely.
  3. Make your contact information as ubiquitous as possible, and offer people ways to anonymously contact you without leaving a trail.

Another easy way to find sources is to post in social media groups. Need a retired Customs and Border Patrol agent? There’s a Facebook group for that. Want to solicit sources from your neighborhood? Use Nextdoor. Need to find a quantum physicist? There’s a subreddit for that.

Hope that helps.

I’ve always been curious about the finances of a small news organization. Frankly, I’m clueless how you can exist and persist, even as a nonprofit. Journalist friends tell me paying reporters “must be” the single largest expense, but what about the rest of the budget? Where does the money for the budget come from? What does it take to have predictable and stable finances?

– Bob Cunningham via email

Answered by Lorie Hearn, Executive Director:

That is one big question but I’ll try to cover the biggest points. (Happy to have a longer conversation with you sometime.)

inewsource is a nonprofit with 501c3 status from the IRS, which means we rely almost exclusively on people who value credible, fact-based journalism as a cornerstone of democracy to donate. In other words, we rely on people who believe in the importance of our journalism to fund us. The old business model of advertising wrapped in news doesn’t work well anymore. To be honest, no one has found the new Holy Grail of journalism sustainability.

Our budget for 2018-19 is $1.2 million. We currently employ 11 full-time people. Your friend is right. Most of the money we spend is for the staff that produces journalism or supports it (videography, editing, social media, for example.) We also have an office manager, who does such things as making sure we get paid, that our books are audited and that the place generally runs well, and a donor engagement manager, who helps raise the money to meet our budget.

More than half our revenue is from individuals; the rest comes primarily from foundations. We are on an expedition this year to explore earned revenue possibilities, especially around our data expertise.

Nonprofit news is in a fragile state. When I started inewsource in 2009, there were some 30 journalism nonprofits in the U.S. Today, there are more than 160 nonprofit members of an umbrella organization called the Institute for Nonprofit News.

inewsource started with a budget of about $300,000 in 2009, then we almost went out of business for lack of funds. There’s no crying in baseball or in journalism, and I didn’t give up. Little by little we have steadily grown in reputation and recognition, which has translated into dollars and national awards for our work. But we take nothing for granted. Raising money to support clean, clear, fact-based reporting is not easy.

We don’t have a lot of assets. We have computers and desks and camera equipment. We have an agreement for space in the KPBS newsroom in trade for producing our content for them for TV, radio and web. We do have small reserves — we contribute to that fund every month — and we have a small endowment, which we’d like to grow.

The most valuable asset we have is our ability to tell stories, to tell the story of inewsource and the stories in this region that would otherwise never be told.

So, Bob, tell everyone you know to put their money where their beliefs are: keeping democracy strong and donating to keeping inewsource strong.

How do you think the news industry will evolve in the next 5-10 years (if at all)? If the inewsource team is anticipating changes, what plans do you have to meet the challenges of an evolving field?

– sdredsoxgirl via Instagram

Answered by Laura Wingard, Managing Editor:

Anyone who tells you they know where the news business will be in five to 10 years is just making things up. If you have thoughts about it, I’d love to hear them.

But as your question points out, the news business is evolving. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist until about 15 years ago. Now, news organizations, including inewsource, rely on these and other social media platforms to get news tips, find sources, engage with the public and spread the word about their reporting. Five years ago, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home didn’t exist. Now they deliver daily newscasts, including the top stories from NPR and the New York Times. Will that still be happening in five or 10 years? It depends on whether some new or cooler thing comes along that captures the attention of news consumers.

Until the first iPhone came out 11 years ago, who knew so many of us would be consuming so much news on our cellphones or tablets? But we are.

That means inewsource needs to be nimble and alert to changing audience demands for how they get their news. That’s why we’re active on social media and continue to grow our newsletter audience. A lot of people start their days calling up newsletters from their favorite news organizations and checking social media. But when those trends change to some new platform, we need to be ready. We also need to never forget our job is to listen to the people we serve — people like you — who are the best for telling us what they want and expect from us.

We do know the public’s thirst for credible, in-depth accountability reporting will continue to grow. Our plan is to be there to meet that demand with kick-ass reporters and data journalists who know how to find good stories that inform and illuminate issues that some try to hide from the public. We’ll tell our stories through words and data but also with audio and video. Why? Because that’s what today’s audience demands. If those demands change, we’ll change, too.

How do you become an anchorman (or woman)?

– mezzamind619 via Instagram

Answered by Carlo Cecchetto, KFMB-TV news anchor (CBS8):

Hard work, flexibility and determination are a few things that I think you’ll need if your goal is to become an anchor.

It takes some work to learn the basics of the TV news business and broadcast journalism. Most people pursuing a career in TV news get a four-year degree in broadcast journalism or a similar field, but it’s not even close to mandatory. I was a political science major and went back to junior college for courses in broadcast journalism.

The real hard work was getting an internship, learning how to actually do the job and learning how to get better. Typical first jobs in television don’t pay well, offer little support and are really hard.

I mention flexibility because, if your goal is the job of “anchor,” you may have to be open to moving around the country to get that job. My family moved four times before I ended up with the evening anchor position at KFMB-TV. It’s not an easy path, and I’ve seen many start out in the business only to realize that it’s not the life journey that they want.

You’ll also have to be determined, because there aren’t a ton of these jobs out there. You’ll get passed over for jobs you want. You’ll wonder if the right opportunity will come your way. It’ll take determination to get through those challenging times.

Specifically, here’s my advice::

  • Pursue a four-year degree in broadcast journalism or similar field. In broadcast programs, you’ll learn how to put together news stories and present them on a newscast.
  • Get an internship at a TV station. You’ll make contacts, get input and learn about what it really takes to make it.

After those steps, it’ll be about the quality of your work and the opportunities you’re presented with.

  • We'll do the work. You just read it.
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About Shyla Nott:

Shyla Nott
Shyla Nott is a social media web producer for inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email shylanott [at] inewsource [dot] org.