Earlier this year, the education-news network Chalkbeat launched a tool that helps reporters and editors keep track of their work’s impact. Now, Chalkbeat is taking its ambitions one step further by creating a new system that will help execute its organizational goals to achieve more impact.
Since February, the Chalkbeat team has been using MORI, an internal impact tracking tool that stands for “Measures of Our Reporting’s Influence.” The tool allows reporters to input qualitative impacts into the back end of WordPress stories, and also to tag stories with metadata that Chalkbeat wants to track, including “story type,” “story theme,” and “story audience.”
By tagging stories and inputting qualitative impacts, Chalkbeat hopes to better understand what stories lead to the most impact.
But that’s just part one of the puzzle, says Rebecca Ross, Chalkbeat’s chief operating officer.
“We also want to build better operating systems that will help us deliver on our impact goals,” she said.
And that’s where the idea of a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system was born. Many businesses use CRMs to organize, manage and automate systems like sales and customer service. Chalkbeat wants to build a CRM to help grow its audience and increase its sustainability.
The experiment began in April 2014 when Chalkbeat was named one of eight recipients of the INNovation Fund—a grant initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Investigative News Network to spur business innovation and experimentation in nonprofit newsrooms focused on audience engagement and long-term sustainability.
Should the experiment prove successful, the CRM will help Chalkbeat boost its ability to distribute its content to targeted audiences and therefore attract paid sponsors at the local and national level.
To achieve the first goal of the CRM—growing its audience—Chalkbeat will use the CRM to help manage and automate its relationships with distribution partners. Ross explains how it would work in theory.
“So, for example, say a reporter writes a story about a new education policy change and wants to make sure teachers see the story,” she said. “The idea is if the reporter selects ‘educator’ as the audience type for the MORI story data input, the story will automatically be sent to a list of readers we’ve identified as educators in our CRM.”
To understand how MORI and the CRM would work together, it’s important to understand why Chalkbeat believes distribution is key to maximizing its impact.
Chalkbeat has four bureaus in New York, Indiana, Tennessee and Colorado that cover educational change happening at the state and local level. Ross says its stories often get mentioned in school board meetings or in reports by policymakers. But Chalkbeat knows it can be doing more to ensure that a broader audience is seeing its work, she says.
“We have to think much more strategically about how to get our work to the people – teachers, principal, advocates and policymakers – who need this information to help inform their everyday decision making,” Ross said. “Our stories can’t have an impact if they aren’t being read by the people we want to reach.”
She said that increasing Chalkbeat’s sustainability is a second, inter-related goal of the CRM project.
“Our focused readership enables us to raise earned revenue through website and newsletter sponsorships and other market-driven strategies,” she said. “Until now, all of these different pieces have been living in different systems. With a CRM, we can have them all in one place.”
Chalkbeat expects its first phase of the project, which focuses on sustainability, to be completed in early November, and its second phase of the project, which focuses on audience building, to be completed by next spring.