Seattle Globalist INNovation Success Story

The Seattle Globalist is an online daily whose purpose is to highlight the connection between global and local news in Greater Seattle. While there continues to be an outcry at the lack of diversity in newsrooms across the country, that cry has been muted at the Globalist whose mission is “To elevate diverse voices through media” — simple and powerful.

It’s no surprise that the Globalist used its INNovation grant to build a pipeline of diverse journalists by developing and marketing a community journalism workshop series with two goals: to increase efficiency in the storytelling process and to develop an earned revenue stream.

Here’s a quick look at the results: approximately 67 percent of its contributors are people of color; women make up 73 percent of site contributors; and 45 percent are immigrants or first-generation Americans. This type of mission-driven creativity is the purpose behind the the grant, which was funded by the Knight Foundation.

Yet, even with such remarkable outcomes, the Globalist is facing a financial crisis. Its primary source of funding, the University of Washington, pulled funding for salaries and space leaving the newsroom with a significant budget shortfall. The community has stepped up to help fill the gap, but the Globalist future is uncertain.

Keep reading to learn about the innovative strategies that made Seattle Globalist an INNovation Success Story. Responses provided by Seattle Globalist community engagement editor Christina Twu.

Organization Name: The Seattle Globalist

Project Title: Community Media Workshop Series: “Your City. Your Story. Your Voice.”

Focus: Elevating diverse voices through media

What was your organization trying to achieve?

Pilot a deconstructed community journalism school for Seattle’s diverse and international communities.

What role did the INNovation Fund dollars play in the project?

The INNovation Fund grant allowed us to develop and market a new workshop series dedicated to introductory community journalism skills, including pitching and developing stories, reporting and interviewing, as well as photojournalism, video and Instagram reporting.

These workshops also served as a formal orientation and introductory training for new writers, helping us attract and develop new Seattle voices to add to our diverse talent pool.

What were the key successes of the project?

In June 2016, our community workshop series was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Region 10 with the 2016 Innovation Award for building newsroom diversity in the Northwest.

The award recognizes the effectiveness of our editorial model, integrating with our community workshop series to harness new diverse voices. Our model builds a pipeline of diverse journalists by assuming that anyone can be a writer. Our workshop series is designed to restructure the pitching process in a way that privileges unique perspective, passion, and diversity over persistence and experience in pitching itself. According to one participant, attending a workshop “inspired me to write in my own voice without fear.”

Many of our writers also found that they were not able to report on issues that mattered to them before working and training with us, such as Varisha Khan, who had been told by another news outlet that she would not be allowed to write stories about her own Muslim-American community. When she started writing for the Globalist, Khan said “I had the opportunity to write about my community and bring a layer of depth to reporting that’s often missed, when I had been previously dissuaded from doing so.”

Since March of 2015, The Seattle Globalist has presented 24 workshops to more than 200 participants. We’ve published 48 stories from new contributors recruited through our community workshops, “Your City. Your Story. Your Voice.” About 20 percent of workshop participants returned to attend another workshop.

Our series began as an effort to monetize the unique skill-development aspect of our organizational mission: roughly half of our contributors are new to journalism, and received intensive mentoring, training and editorial guidance through the process of publishing with the Globalist. At the time of our initial proposal, that mentorship was taking place largely on an individual basis between each editor and their contributors, making it both time-intensive and hard for us to quantify in terms of the service provided to our writers. By creating a series of skill-building workshops for contributors and the public, we aimed to both maximize efficiency in our editorial process and create a new revenue stream.

The curriculum we have now developed for the community workshops program has allowed us to not only build a steady following of attendees willing to pay an average of $20 per workshop — a revenue stream to regularly pay for the immediate hard costs of running the program — it also helped us attract a $26,500 training contract from Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment, and another $15,000 training contract with Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs to work with East African media outlets.

While the program did not directly earn as much money as we had hoped, it indirectly contributed to significant increases in training contracts, advertising revenues, and efficiency in our editorial process, allowing us to publish more content and recruit more writers, while institutionalizing training to develop our existing contributor base.  

We were also able to host a number of successful workshops with partner media organizations who have formally or informally sought our consultation on diversifying their staff or contributor base.

These successes, in sum, have brought us significant recognition and potential to build the program pending funding opportunities.

What were the critical success factors (ex: market types, internal capacity) that made the project work?

Having the capacity to solicit long-term, dedicated funding for the program is key to its success and growth. We found that having one person specifically staff this program contributed immensely to a successful first year, and that more staff support dedicated to fundraising for the workshops would have secured the program’s future.

What were the lessons learned?

  • We learned that there is great demand for professional development from both those who are new to The Seattle Globalist, and those who have had prior experience writing for us. Many who could not attend expressed a strong desire and need for professional development, particularly with story idea generation, reporting and interviewing skills.
  • We have learned that there is strong demand for our beginning session, “Writing with Voice,” our intermediate session, “Interview Like a Pro,” and for our photography workshop. This series of three workshops has become the cornerstone of our offerings.
  • In the coming year, we would like to formalize this grouping of three sessions into a series. Participants who complete all three sessions and write a story for the Globalist will earn a certificate, making them more attractive potential freelance contributors to other local media outlets in addition to the Globalist.
  • Personal encouragement from editors or other staff at The Seattle Globalist in helping to recruit from our current writer corps was extremely effective, especially in the first few months. As the trainings gained momentum, we have increasingly learned that participants heard about the workshops through social media and word of mouth.
  • Though our initial target audience was those in Seattle’s international communities without journalism experience, the workshops also attracted a number of established journalists from other local news organizations such as Crosscut, Seattle Weekly, Real Change News and KUOW Public Radio.
  • Attendees were more likely to pay full-price for a workshop at $20 vs. the original $25 or $50 full cost we offered for the first two sessions. Subsequent workshops offered full-cost at $20 per workshop reflected the “sweet spot” that reflected what people were willing pay. We also found that offering seasonal discounts of anywhere from 25 to 50 percent for a series of two to three workshops was very successful.
  • The 100 stories published post-community workshop attendance from existing contributors, and 48 stories published from new contributors demonstrate the program’s particular effectiveness in increasing engagement and publication among existing contributors
  • By decreasing the amount of time editors need to spend mentoring writers who have gone through one or more of the workshops, the trainings have also been an effective way to make our workflow more efficient.
  • While intensive one-on-one mentorship from editors is still a hallmark of the Globalist’s work, the workshops have also opened other opportunities for Globalist contributors to advance more quickly with their journalism skills and increase their chances of following through on stories from pitch to publish than they would with just one-on-one mentorship with staff editors. Part of this positive outcome can be attributed to the practice of taking many story pitches within community workshop hours, combined with regular, successful attendance of workshops at the encouragement of staff editors.
  • This project has helped us understand how crucial education and mentorship are to our mission: they are woven deeply into our editorial process, and the workshops have helped us make that connection both more transparent and more effective.
  • While the Community Media Workshop series did not directly earn the amount of money we had hoped, we did make significant increases in training contracts and ad revenue, which can be at least indirectly attributed to the Community Media Workshops.
  • More broadly, our Community Media Workshop series has established the Seattle Globalist as a leading media education organization in Seattle, and as an expert in increasing newsroom diversity. In the past year, we have been approached by several major media outlets for assistance in increasing diversity in their newsrooms and coverage.

Would you recommend this revenue- or audience-building approach to other news organizations?  

We recommend that news organizations consider investing in community education, not as an income generator or for audience building per se, but to invest in the elevation of diverse perspectives to generate richer stories and better content, and build community trust.

What insight would you offer anyone using or thinking of trying a similar approach?

Welcoming new potential writers on our publishing platform sweetened the experience for many of our workshop participants. Our pipeline of diverse, non-professional journalists is built on an editorial model and culture of intense, editorial mentoring and investment in the next generation of journalists and media makers. Hence, the editorial and educational components of our program are tightly woven together and depend on each other to build the success of our media organization.

What was your general funding profile at that time?

About a third of our revenue came from program revenue, 38 percent from grants, and 29 percent from individual donors. Our annual budget was about $250,000.

What is the market/community that you serve?

There is a strong overlap between our audience, contributors and program participants. Our 600+ contributors are about 73 percent women, 67 percent people of color and 45 percent immigrants or children of immigrants. Our readership skews young, with 56 percent belonging in the 18-34 age bracket.