From the editor
Sentinel awarded Knight grant to revamp website
'Sustainable Publishing Solutions' program supports TucsonSentinel.com, 23 other news orgs
We're excited to let you know that TucsonSentinel.com is one of 24 independent local news outlets across the United States receiving grants to strengthen publishing platforms.
In simple terms: We'll work better on your phone soon.
But (of course) there's more to it that that.
The details: the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Monday morning that Tucson's authentically local nonprofit news organization is among the first recipients of grants from a program to bolster local news websites around the country. The support is the start of a $2 million, three-year technology initiative to help news organizations better serve their communities with quality news and information.
Our regular readers are almost as familiar as our reporters and editors with how long in the tooth our website has become over a decade of publishing. In addition to more effective mobile displays, there are a lot of features we've held off on adding and upgrading over the past couple of years, while we worked to cobble together resources to tackle fixing up our system.
We're honored that TucsonSentinel.com was chosen in a competitive process that involved an applicant pool of 140 news organizations.
"Now, more than ever, it's critical for newsrooms and publishers to adopt digital solutions that meet audiences where they are and provide new revenue opportunities," said Paul Cheung, Knight Foundation director for journalism and technology innovation.
"These outstanding news organizations now have the opportunity to leverage technology to maximize their revenue and better serve their communities," said Cheung.
With more than 27,000 published stories and quite a lot of custom code already running, that isn't as simple a prospect as hitting "install" on a new WordPress theme. In fact, we don't even run WordPress.
Rather, we run ExpressionEngine, which is a pretty powerful, sophisticated piece of software — in addition to being behind some world-class publishing and business websites, it's what's powered the first campaign sites of the last two presidents we've elected. (We've known who Brad Parscale is for a decade; he used to be an ExpressionEngine developer.)
That means we've got some great new stuff in the works (larger photos, more creative story presentations, more interactive elements, and yes, looking so much better on smaller screens), but it won't all happen right away. But you'll start seeing change 'round these parts pretty soon.
Knight Foundation is one of the largest, most prestigious funders of journalism in the nation, and we're proud and excited to be part of this investment in local news.
Each selected news outlet, including the Sentinel, will receive $20,000 to support news "publishing tools that will improve distribution, community engagement and revenue opportunities." That is frankly a tremendous boost for what is still a small nonprofit news organization with a budget that can politely be called "frugal."
But it won't pay for everything we want, and need, to do to make our website the place where we can deliver you all of the news you need with deep context and comprehensive local understanding. We're going to be doing a lot more than just changing up a color scheme and tweaking some fonts, and to do that heavy lifting we've lined up some fantastic (if expensive) experts, experienced consultants, and some designers and coders who believe in what we do so much that they're volunteering their time.
Even so, our total real-world budget for this project is thousands of dollars more than this grant will cover. Knight Foundation knows that, and knows that the Tucson community has invested in our work for a decade. We're hoping — no, counting on, really — you to pitch in again to make this a reality.
You can support this big step for our mission-driven watchdog nonprofit newsroom with a one-time or continuing contribution:
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From Knight Foundation's announcement:
To become sustainable and build trust in the communities they serve, news organizations need the tools to engage in the urgent discussions about race and equity with their users and deliver real-time updates on the coronavirus pandemic. Knight funding will help news organizations achieve these goals with the publishing tools that prioritize and enhance audience development, business development and editorial content production.
The selection of newsrooms was managed by News Revenue Hub, a nonprofit organization that works with more than 50 publishers on building membership revenue, growing audiences and developing sustainable business practices. ... Led by News Revenue Hub, an expert panel of industry experts evaluated each application on a basis of application strength, grant utilization, and industry impact.
When we launched a decade ago, our site was pretty much state of the art. Now, we could use a bit more than a quick dash of paint and some new slipcovers. So we'll be completely rebuilding things from the ground up, while still maintaining our archive of tens of thousands of local news reports.
"TucsonSentinel.com demonstrated how this grant would transform their ability to serve their readers and gave evaluators confidence that this would be a strong financial investment," said Christina Shih of News Revenue Hub. "With over 10 years of success of evolving alongside their readership and diversifying their revenue, TucsonSentinel.com embodies the goals of the grant with a clear vision towards sustainability."
We're in some tremendous company, with the other grantees including some organizations that are, like TucsonSentinel.com, attracting national recognition as vital nonprofit newsrooms that produce important local journalism.
Among the 23 other locally focused news organizations to be funded with the grant are: Accion Hispana/Que Pasa (Winston-Salem, N.C.), The Atlanta Voice, The Brooklyn Reader, Block Club Chicago, Carolina Public Press, Mississippi Today, Montana Free Press, Native News Online (Grand Rapids, Mich.), and Sahan Journal (St. Paul, Minn.). Read more about each of the grantee news outlets. Read about the grant selection process.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.
The independent nonprofit TucsonSentinel.com reports in-depth stories about politics and public policy in Southern Arizona, focusing on the unique cultural and social interactions in the borderlands. With an emphasis on immigration, the environment and local investigations, its award-winning journalism holds the powerful to account and gives voice to stories that otherwise go untold.