Although Jan Schaffer just produced a masterful analysis of how to run a grassroots news site, she came up dry on the crucial question of how to turn those journalistic labors of love into sustainable businesses.The best she could do was tell the truth: “Community news sites are not a business yet,” says the forthright Schaffer.
She ought to know. As the director of the J-Lab at American University in Washington, DC, she put $833,000 into 46 start-up news sites between 2005 and 2009 in an ambitious project called New Voices.
In a must-read assessment of the Knight- Foundation-backed program, Shaffer said a third of the ventures already have called it quits and that the remainder endure in large part because the founders are working for little or no pay. “Again and again,” wrote Schaffer, “we’ve seen volunteer New Voices efforts that are sustaining themselves with little income.”
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