A review of public stations’ financial data over the past 15 years shows that, despite their widely divergent revenue trajectories, public radio and television have both made great progress in implementing structural and cultural changes needed to pursue new revenues.
In another set of changes intended to adjust its journalism philanthropy to the rapidly evolving digital-media marketplace, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation unveiled a new grants program last month and created a new mechanism for providing aid to digital start-ups. The Knight Prototype Fund is designed to react quickly to entrepreneurs, journalists and “tinkerers of all kinds” who are building and testing pioneering ideas, the foundation announced on its website. The fund offers small grants of up to $50,000 over a few months, a much shorter time frame than the more typical cycle of one- to three-year grants. Among the first award-winners is Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln who is experimenting with the use of drone vehicles for news and data collection. Knight also tweaked the formula for its News Challenge, the grant program that was split into three application rounds earlier this year.
Two high-profile news nonprofits in the San Francisco area, The Bay Citizen and the Center for Investigative Reporting, will make a final decision early next month about whether they’ll merge. If they do, job losses appear certain. The two announced Feb. 7 they had signed a formal letter of intent to merge and have given their respective boards 30 days to approve or reject the merger. If the boards consent, management of The Bay Citizen will be turned over to the Berkeley-based CIR, whose board chairman, Phil Bronstein, would become executive chair of the combination, The Bay Citizen reported.
The bad news: Public radio is a small part of a rapidly expanding nonprofit sector. Competition with other nonprofits for mind-share and donor support will intensify. Moreover, public radio lacks the financial transparency that donors increasingly expect.