Reports & Briefs

Platforms & Publishers

Reports & Briefs

Tow/Knight Projects

Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement



This report is funded by the Democracy Fund, First Look Media, Institute for Nonprofit News, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The following research is intended to aid staff from news organizations and media entrepreneurs who wish to grow their revenue by deepening interactions with their audiences. It’s based on hundreds of conversations and interviews with journalists, managers, and members themselves, including newsroom fieldwork and observation, as well as focus groups with supporters of news sites. We use these findings to share strategic and tactical considerations for building audience revenue programs. We also share detailed examples of ways that news organizations around the world are experimenting with new approaches to raising funds and supporting myriad forms of audience participation.

We differentiate between three models of audience revenue generation:

  • donation model encourages audiences to give their time or money to an institution in support of a common cause or common values. Donation conveys a charitable relationship.
  • subscription model requires audiences to pay money to get access to a product or service. Subscription conveys a transactional relationship.
  • membership model invites audiences to give their time, money, connections, professional expertise, distribution to their networks, and/or ideas to support a cause they believe in. Membership in its “thick” version represents two-way knowledge exchange between journalists and members. You might think of membership as a more committed relationship that is robust and active.

Read the full report at Columbia Journalism Review.

February 12, 2018