Reader Revenue

SJN’s newsroom partners have consistently shared the positive feedback that the solutions journalism approach garners among readers. Evidence of revenue directly generated by this editorial practice is limited, in part due to the technical challenges of tracking this connection. But publishers, editors and journalists have expressed confidence that solutions journalism can motivate audiences to provide financial support.

Take the Richland Source, mentioned above, whose editorial brand is deeply anchored in the practice of looking at what works in the community it serves.

Producing solutions journalism helped grow local residents’ trust in the publication, making them feel proud of and hopeful about their town. In the words of Deanna West-Torrence, a paying member of the Richland Source, “You don’t always know what they’re going to write, but you definitely trust the people who are writing [solutions journalism] … And you know that it’s for the good of the greater community.” A track record of journalism that both exposes problems and describes promising responses to those problems shows communities the news outlet is invested in providing another layer of public service. As a result, community members describe additional reasons for supporting the news organization.

Jay Allred, publisher of the Richland Source, told SJN, “We assign a great deal of our membership growth to SoJo, because it is a crucial driver in every way that we explain ourselves to our readers.” In 2020, the publication, which has a dedicated solutions journalism vertical on its website, generated $73,000 in revenue from its individual members.

Santa Cruz Local

Making solutions journalism a pillar of fundraising

This for-profit local digital publication covering Santa Cruz County in California through articles and podcasts has been shaping its editorial coverage around a solutions focus for the past couple of years. Its About page states: “We look for approaches to problems in other cities and counties and dissect them. We unravel how those solutions work, where they fall short and what it would take to bring those models to Santa Cruz County.”

During the second half of July 2021, Santa Cruz Local launched a reader revenue campaign to support its reporting on homelessness. Within two weeks, it managed to raise $20,226 from 111 donors and members, doubling its goal of reaching $10,000. The fundraising campaign attracted 30 new members, with one signing up for $100 a month. Amounts for one-time gifts ranged from $10 to $5,000, including five donations of $1,000 and three $500 donations. Having a fiscal sponsor helped the newsroom receive money from a donor that could otherwise only give money to a nonprofit.

Solutions journalism featured prominently in the pitch to readers, made through a combination of phone calls and an email series. Kara Meyberg Guzman, CEO and co-founder, said supporters frequently mentioned the focus on responses to homelessness as a reason to back the publication.

screenshot of Santa Cruz Local newsletter

Here are examples of language used to highlight the solutions focus of the Santa Cruz Local’s reporting in its fundraising campaign:

  • “In the next three months, we plan to investigate what’s being done to address homelessness in our county. We want to look at programs that have shown promise at addressing homelessness in other parts of California. We want to understand how those approaches work, examine their limitations and share insights.”
  • “This kind of deep, community-informed, solutions-focused journalism takes time, and it’s expensive.”


Show previous work on this issue.

“This reporting will build on our previous stories and podcast episodes with insight into problems and solutions related to homelessness in Santa Cruz County.”

Connect the editorial project to priorities expressed by readers and heard by the publication.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of Santa Cruz County residents that solving homelessness is their top priority. We’ve planned this series because of you.”

Test the messaging of the project with engaged members before launch to ensure traction.

Meyberg Guzman spoke with two ardent supporters in five separate hourlong conversations to gauge the impact of various ideas. They urged Meyberg Guzman to frame the campaign around solutions journalism.

Segment your audience and curate different emails depending on audience members’ relationship to your organization, using software to automate the process.

Existing members, newsletter subscribers and potential major donors all require customized approaches and messages to attract their financial support. Santa Cruz Local asked members to donate additional money and asked readers to become members.

It relied on Zapier, a product that helps users integrate web applications, to segment its audience and run a welcome series for donors and members, which asked for testimonials and feedback, as well as requesting them to share Santa Cruz Local’s work with friends.

Preparation and implementation should be done by a team sharing the workload.

Meyberg Guzman was able to run the campaign on her own while remaining lightly involved in editorial production. However, she “was definitely running on fumes those few weeks” and would not recommend it.

Evidence of potential for reader revenue

Measuring reader revenue stemming from solutions journalism is a complex task. Isolating its leverage as a discrete factor, distinct from many other editorial, product and marketing variables, has not yet been done systematically.

However, a 2021 study led by Ned Berke, an expert in audience analytics, showed solutions journalism appeals to highly engaged readers who are more likely to provide financial support to newsrooms. Translating reader engagement to financial support still requires a set of strategies to bring readers into a revenue program.

Here are the recommended strategies:

  • Spotlight the solutions work. Increase signposting and messaging so that solutions journalism is key to the publication’s brand. The goal here is twofold: to help readers of other content more easily find their way to solutions journalism, and to demonstrate that this kind of coverage is crucial to the publication’s reputation and value proposition.
  • Put prominent messaging for your reader revenue program on solutions journalism stories. For longer stories, consider multiple messages throughout the story, not just at the end of the article. Take the time to craft these messages to reflect what makes solutions journalism unique and how readers’ support can ensure more of it.
  • Create a newsletter list for solutions stories. Providing solutions readers with an opportunity to identify themselves by sharing their email addresses will allow you to better target them even when they’re not reading solutions content. You can message this list for support.
  • Invest in social distribution for solutions journalism. The data suggests that those who encounter solutions journalism in their first session are more likely to return. So take extra time to reach new audiences interested in this work. That could mean engaging more deeply in relevant Facebook groups or Reddit threads, for example, or using paid promotion to expand the reach of solutions journalism.
  • Invest in reader engagement opportunities around solutions journalism. In-person and virtual events, crowdsourced reporting and topic-oriented digital communities are some of the types of programming you can produce around your solutions journalism, providing opportunities to better know and build relationships with these readers.
  • Prioritize topic-driven solutions reporting for fundraising initiatives. One-off fundraising campaigns around specific initiatives allow publishers to seek additional support from existing paying readers, and also raise funds from readers who are not interested in joining a monthly or annual reader revenue program. Solutions journalism around timely issues and news events is a strong calling card for such fundraising.
  • Send automated text messages or emails to solutions readers. A series of well-crafted messages triggered by visits to a solutions URL can deepen audience engagement and should be a high priority for tailored messaging.