How to Spend $255k on Local News
Hint: with equity and patience
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in spring of this year, it became clear to the Resolve Philly team that, just like all other businesses, newsrooms would need some help to weather this difficult time and continue to provide information to the Philadelphians who need it. That’s why, as we began developing the Equally Informed initiative, thanks to an Independence Media Foundation grant, one of our main goals was to inject much-needed funds into local newsrooms.
To create this stimulus, we allocated $255,000 of our $1 million grant specifically to placing ads with our Broke in Philly newsroom partners, in whatever way made sense for each newsroom.
The main challenge we faced was that each newsroom uses advertising in a different way. Some rely on in ad impressions, some on social media; one was a brand new website; and some don’t even sell ads, so they needed a completely different approach for accepting funds.
Initially, we thought hiring a media buying firm to steer this ship for us was the best approach, so we could capitalize on their experience and knowledge of the advertising industry. But it soon became clear that the unique situation we were in required so much flexibility that it actually didn’t make sense to work with a third party. We were looking to strengthen our relationships with each newsroom through this process. Outsourcing that didn’t feel right.
So, as Resolve’s project manager, I took on the task of leading the newsroom stimulus. We also received help from Resource Media, a nonprofit media and communications firm who has become one of the most important pieces to the Equally Informed puzzle. This had the added benefit of efficiency, as Resource also developed the creative material for these ads.
In planning the stimulus, our first task was to split up our allocation among the 24 newsrooms in a fair and equitable way. Not all newsrooms are the same; in fact they are so different that figuring out how to award pieces of the stimulus to each was very difficult. Resource Media used the following questions to help us determine the split:
- How large is the newsroom? For instance, $5,000 would be life-saving for some, but a drop in the bucket for others.
- Who is their audience? Our goals were to focus on under-represented and harder-to-reach audiences. Some newsrooms do that more naturally than others.
We didn’t want to rush deciding how the “pot” was divided, so we used the month of May to make a plan. In the meantime, Resource Media and Resolve worked on the first round of public health messaging materials and asked all the newsrooms to run the creative as public service announcements in good faith that paid ads were coming. Nearly all of the publications agreed and we were able to take the time we needed to come up with an equitable strategy for this complicated campaign.
After deep discussion, we eventually decided to organize the newsrooms into three groups, based mostly on demographic data but also taking into account the size of each newsroom:
- POC-Focused Newsrooms/Community Media — One of the major goals of Equally Informed is to make sure everyone is informed, so reaching people who are traditionally not represented in local media — like people of color, Spanish-speaking communities, and the LGBTQ community — was important. Newsrooms that focused on these demographics were given a higher priority. These newsrooms were also typically in greater need of cash because their audience base was inherently smaller than a general audience.
- Niche Focus/Civic-Urbanist — Several of our newsrooms speak to a very specific audience that also hits many demographics, such as technology lovers or parents of school-aged children. A smaller amount of money would go a long way in these publications.
- Large Footprint Daily/Weekly — While we wanted to ensure people who needed the information most were prioritized, we also wanted to create a “surround sound’’ in the city with our messaging, so larger newsrooms with broader audiences were included in the stimulus. We also needed to make sure the amount of money we invested in these publications would give us the exposure we wanted, since typically their larger audiences constituted higher prices for ads.
So far, we’ve distributed $236,000 as follows:
POC-Focused Newsrooms/Community Media: $13,000 each
- Al Día
- Dos Puntos
- Fun Times
- Germantown Info Hub
- Kensington Voice
- Philadelphia Gay News
- Philatinos Radio
- Philly Your Black News
Niche Focus/Civic Urbanist: $7,000 each
- Billy Penn
- Green Philly
- Next City
- The Philadelphia Citizen
- The Philadelphia Public School Notebook
Big Daily/Weekly Footprint: $10,000 each
- Metro Philadelphia
- The Philadelphia Inquirer
- Philadelphia Weekly
- Philadelphia Magazine
- NBC10/Telemundo 62 are clearly in the “big footprint” group, but they admittedly were not in as difficult a financial position as our other partners. They graciously agreed to forego their portion of the newsroom stimulus in favor of creating more opportunity for the other partners who needed it. They continued to run PSA ads for the campaign.
(The final $19,000 of our stimulus allocation was set aside for a few to-be-announced funding projects.)
Our next step was to inform the newsrooms of the split and begin executing the campaign. This was easy and quick for newsrooms with streamlined advertising processes, while it took several weeks to figure out how best to “spend” the stimulus with other newsrooms and get our public messaging to their audiences in the best ways. Individual proposals were created with every newsroom and slowly over the month of June the official campaigns were launched.
The final step in the stimulus process was to create a reporting structure that would capture the impressions and impact that the campaign had on the city of Philadelphia and its residents. This meant working with many different methods of advertising, such as radio ads, digital banners, social media posts, event sponsorship, or even physical newspaper box installations. Using our preferred data tracking software, Airtable, we created a simple ad-tracking and reporting system that very conservatively shows upwards of 4 million impressions in just the first few months alone (not counting PSAs). We expect to be somewhere in the 10-15 million range of impressions by the end of 2020.
Who would have thought spending $255,000 on local news would be so complicated? Luckily with wonderful thought partners like Resource Media, organized and detail-oriented staff members, and most importantly, flexible and caring newsroom partners, we were able to contribute funds to Philadelphia newsrooms that provide life-saving, life-sustaining, and life-affirming messaging.