If you're reading this guide, it's no secret to you that journalism has found itself in a fiscal crisis. Layoffs and news deserts are common, ad revenue isn't as easy to come by as it once was, and billionaires probably aren't going to save us. This final DUG section confronts the necessary question of fundraising, especially for small and/or non-profit newsrooms interested in building data journalism capacity.
Predictably, there's no easy answer here, but it's worth collating a few traditional data journalism funders, a few non-traditional funders, and a few modes of funding data journalism projects and teams. Let's start with the latter. In terms of funding modes, data journalism isn't any different from traditional digital journalism. To that end, we'd highlight the following potential revenue streams for organizations:
- General operating dollars, whereby editorial revenue not explicitly generated for a data journalism program is allocated to data journalism;
- Program-based funding, whereby a funding stream is specifically raised and dedicated to data journalism;
- Project-based funding, whereby a funder decides to underwrite a series or beat within an organization's data journalism team;
- Position-based funding, whereby a staff position, fellowship, or specific person receives dedicated external or internal fiscal support;
- Story underwriting, whereby a funder (more often than not, a passionate major donor) supports the reporting of a specific story by the data journalism team;
- Membership models, whereby small-dollar donors pay monthly or annual sums for freemium access to special content (or, indeed, support the team without said access);
- Advertising revenue, which hardly requires a definition;
- Sponsorships and sponsored content, whereby corporations or foundation partners pay for branded opportunities on your site outside of ads per se; and
- Events and other ticket-based opportunities, whereby paid live experiences fund future data reporting.
(You'll note that we haven't mentioned the various subscription models out there. We assume you're familiar with subscription.) Some of these funding streams are better-suited to data journalism than others, and most funders have a preferred mode of funding. The Pulitzer Center's data journalism grantmaking program, for example, tends to support project- and story-based work, whereas USC Annenberg's Health Journalism Data Fellowship underwrites a six-month reporting position. (IRE's fellowships and scholarships page offers many more good examples of the latter!)
All told, as is the case with most things in life, general operating revenue is going to be the most helpful revenue stream. It's also often the most difficult to come by.
One alternative may be to break your conception of data journalism into its constituent chunks. Maybe a data journalism grant per se is tricky to dig up for an organization building out this type of program for the first time. But what about data visualization? Or a CMS upgrade?
There are also some synergies to be had here. (Don't worry, we hate the word, too.) Charts and graphs, for example, can be helpful in funding proposals, and in-house analytics -- how has your membership program grown since the introduction of a data journalism program? -- can bolster your case.
Our advice? Take a look at the folks already sponsoring and underwriting data reporting and data journalism conferences! For example, take a look at the NICAR21 sponsor list: "Google News Initiative, John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, Knight Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Microsoft, O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism/Marquette University, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and The Paranoids at Verizon Media." Fundraising is about relationship-building: Maybe it's time you introduced yourself.