What Does the Knight Foundation See in WyoFile, Wyoming's Premier Nonprofit News Organization?

The Knight Foundation recently awarded a $75,000 grant to WyoFile, Wyoming's premier nonprofit online news organization. For those who've been following the foundation, this won't come as a complete surprise. What is interesting is how WyoFile created a compelling model that caught Knight's attention, and how other nonprofit news organizations can learn from their success.

The Knight Foundation's funding is part of their Knight Local Media Initiative, a critical lifeline to local nonprofit news organizations struggling to stay afloat. It's no secret that many traditional news outlets are fighting for their very existence. Large outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post are experimenting with paid subscription services, but cynics point out they're only delaying the inevitable. Due to the proliferation of social media and the fragmentation of their customer bases, the classic concept of "journalism," as we've come to know it, is in its death throes.

The problem is even more acute at the local level. Local and regional news outlets are folding up or being bought out by larger conglomerates. And as a result, the public suffers. In fact, one of the interesting elements of the recent Chris Christie "Bridgegate" scandal in New Jersey was the fact that the story was broken by persistent reporters at the Bergen Record, a regional paperprecisely the kind of outlet that is facing extinction.

And that's why Knight's Local Media Initiative is so important. The foundation sees the writing on the wall and its goal is simple: to help small and regional news organizations establish long-term sustainability, particularly online. But the foundation doesn't cut checks indiscriminately. New organizations must clearly demonstrate innovation and potential for growth. Which bring us back to WyoFile. What was it about that organization that made Knight write that check? A few things come to mind:

  • Quality of reporting. Simply put, WyoFile creates a great "product." Their stories, which focus on health care, energy, environment, and community-oriented issues, resonate with Wyoming citizens. For example, WyoFile exposed a $10 million Department of Energy federal stimulus project now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Doing more with less. WyoFile is able to create great stories with a relatively small team of three reporters and a network of journalism veterans across the state. 
  • Making transparent the legislative process. Since 2012, WyoFile has covered important legislative work, ranging from the state's budget to social issues. In other words, they keep Wyoming politicians on their toes.

As a result, while other news outlets shrink, WyoFile has seen its readership base expand. And with this new grant from Knight, we expect WyoFile to continue to grow and inspire other nonprofit news organizations in the process.

Click here for for more insight on how to nab a Knight Foundation journalism grant.