Two years in, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is helping other community outlets develop membership programmes

At the end of June, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) turned two. Since 2015, the organisation has worked with more than 25 outlets, including community papers, radio and TV stations, and national publications, digging into the topics that are insufficiently covered in the media.

BINJ, which is a non-profit organisation, uses its Medium-hosted website as a “clearing house” for the investigations, features, TV show and radio programme its small team of staff produces alongside freelancers and other local reporters, explained Chris Faraone, co-founder of BINJ and news and features editor for the city’s alternative newspaper, Dig Boston.

The organisation approaches its reporting as “collaboration-first”, working with outlets such as Spare Change News, a Boston street paper that produces a 33-page publication every other week; El Planeta, a state-wide Spanish language newspaper which translates some of BINJ’s features; and local radio and TV stations.

Editorial partnerships are not just “throwing content” at people, Faraone added, and apart from BINJ’s investigations, he and his team also collaborate with other local reporters to produce and distribute a TV show and a radio programme that connect the stories everyone is working on, whether they are written features or video segments.

The TV show, called Beyond Boston, has been airing every month for almost a year and has covered topics such as immigration, public transportation, women’s marches and the election.

The shows, which are hosted by the BINJ team, usually feature introductory commentary, a live interview and some public policy analysis on the topic discussed, intertwined with news packages shot by other community access television stations.

In the US, these stations fall under a PEG license, a type of non-commercial television programming. BINJ works with more than 20 of these community access TV stations in the state of Massachusetts, out of the more than 300 that exist, Faraone explained. Beyond Boston is filmed at a different station every month, so the team from that station produces and edits the particular episode.

“Thousands of people watch these things. In addition to people being able to get them in their homes, they air everywhere from libraries to common spaces like churches, city halls.

“We get a lot of feedback from the show, viewers give us ideas for stories and most importantly, people want to be involved, it’s real community news.”

The most recent Beyond Boston show focused on public transportation in the city, and the team also organised a public engagement event, where more than 150 readers came to discuss the issue with policy experts, union members, and academics.

Another multimedia project called ‘Vicious cycle’, about bicycle infrastructure and safety in the greater Boston area, included audio and video showing BINJ reporters cycling through the most dangerous intersections in the city. The topic was also being explored on the BINJ website and in the radio programme at the same time.

BINJ started producing the weekly radio show, ‘BINJ Local Edition’, some six months ago – it airs first on Boston’s own radio station, but it is also syndicated to some college radio stations, as well as turned into a podcast.

“We’re doing all these features, then we film the show, then we transcribe some of the interviews for the show and make those into Q&As, and so on.

“A bike lane is the perfect metaphor – it literally stretches from one community to the other, it’s not an issue that stops where an arbitrary municipal line is drawn.

“Things like bicycle infrastructure, these are topics that get a token article thrown their way now and then, but we really get in there and build community around it and see where it takes us. Not everything goes viral, but some things do and when they take off, it’s not hard to get people involved.”

In June 2015, BINJ introduced memberships through Medium’s new (at the time) monetising feature, asking readers to donate a minimum of $3 a month. Since then, BINJ has acquired more than 100 members who pay an average of $6 every month, and they receive invitations to events, as well as early access to expanded versions of published features.

Members are also first to benefit from BINJ’s Throwbacks, a series of columns that connect current news events happening in Boston to headlines from the city’s history. None of the outlet’s “contemporary reporting” goes behind the paywall, and even the throwbacks become publicly available a few months after publication.

“Boston is a pretty transient city, with all our college population, and there are reporters at major newspapers who don’t know what happened in the city 20, 30 years ago,” Faraone said, “and that’s a big problem.

“We have our young reporters especially in the archives, digging up stories and connecting them.”

BINJ is now working with two other community outlets, the Santa Fe Reporter in New Mexico, and the Arkansas Times, to help them set up similar “BINJ-like incubators”.

Locally, Faraone and his team are also helping two Boston-based, non-profit arts publications to set up membership programmes, and to think about how they can diversify their revenue models: The Boston Compass and Big Red and Shiny.

“Local journalism is really in trouble under the Trump administration, so we want to help these outlets that already exist, who can sustain themselves but don’t have that little extra,” Faraone said.

“After two years, we are building a toolkit and we are talking to a few funders about making it streamlined so that people can come and grab resources from us.

“When we started BINJ we went out and met with dozens of community editors, publishers, everybody who was willing to meet, so now we are doing the same thing.”

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