In the digital age, many news outlets struggle with drops in advertising and resulting budget reductions, leading to questions about how quality reporting will be financed. Charlottesville Tomorrow's answer has been a nonprofit model.
When founding board members Michael Bills and Rick Middleton launched Charlottesville Tomorrow in 2005, they weren't looking to create a full-fledged journalism venture but rather a website dedicated to information on specific issues affecting the Charlottesville area and local elections. Some of the first pieces published to the blog were podcasts covering local government meetings and city council elections.
The site now has two full-time reporters who cover stories related to land use/transportation and K-12 education. "By specializing on just a few niche topics, we feel [our readers] can stay the most informed," says Executive Director Brian Wheeler. They also have two paid interns and a full-time community engagement and marketing specialist who pursues underwriting opportunities and interacts with supporters and readers.
Charlottesville Tomorrow has partnerships with The Daily Progress, C-Ville Weekly and The Hook that allow the newspapers to print its articles. All three papers print local voting guides that Charlottesville Tomorrow assembles, and they give the nonprofit site advertising space instead of exchanging money. Giles Morris, editor of C-Ville Weekly, says the collaboration provides his paper with detail-oriented news coverage without having to overload his reporters. "It also helps give them exposure," he adds.
To pay for its operations, Charlottesville Tomorrow relies on a mixture of grants and contributions from private and corporate donors. Sixty percent of its $300,000 annual budget comes from gifts of more than $1,000. They've also gathered donations using the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, where they raised $17,565 to help pay for a full-time education reporter. Around 1,400 fundraising letters also go out to community members each year. "We rely on the community to support us," Wheeler says, "and since Charlottesville is a place where people want to be informed, we've been successful."