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What is the Commercial Model for Investigative Media?

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Journalism has been mired in an economic crisis for years, largely driven by the domination of the digital giants and the collapse of traditional business models. The funding crisis is even more acute for investigative journalism because the nature of the work means that it often requires more resources and time.

At the same time, journalists are finding new models of funding, experimenting, innovating, and learning from one another. The challenges are significant and cannot be underestimated, but there have been some notable successes in the growing nonprofit investigative journalism sector.

Donor funding continues to be the most significant source of revenue. Varied forms of membership and subscription are becoming increasingly popular, and are seen by many as the answer to sustainability in the longer term.

In addition, some nonprofit organizations are raising funds through a range of commercial activities including teaching and training, event management, and the sale of data and other products, among others. This can diversify sources of revenue, and bring in more funds for journalism. Advertising still plays a role, too, particularly for large organizations and those nonprofit journalism organizations with links to commercial media houses.

Today we publish an overview on how to navigate the complex field of commercial revenue by Ross Settles, adjunct professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong. Check out our new resource, “How to Evaluate Commercial Revenue as a Sustainability Strategy for Investigative Media Organizations,” which introduces three main commercial revenue strategies and gives tips for choosing among these options. Settles explains how to develop a detailed picture of the market and the products and services you want to sell, with examples from GIJN member organizations.

This resource is part of GIJN’s efforts to increase its support in this critical area — the sustainability of nonprofit investigative journalism — a response to both evident need and strong demand from our members. We are expanding this work in 2020 and welcome suggestions and feedback. Please contact us at

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