In Fact Daily Takes a Nonprofit Leap
Politics newsletter hopes to take Texas Tribune model local
Last week, in a subtle but potentially significant shift of the Austin media world, the online politics newsletter In Fact Daily was sold by Cox Media Group (parent company of the Austin American-Statesman) to a just-established nonprofit, the Capital of Texas Media Foundation. The Foundation was formed by journeyman IFD reporter Mike Kanin (President and CEO of the foundation, under an independent board), who, until last Friday's closing, also reported regularly for the Chronicle. In an email to IFD subscribers, Kanin wrote, "Today begins what we hope will be a long run at the center of public discourse in the Central Texas region." The Statesman had purchased the publication in 2010 from editor (and then-publisher) Jo Clifton.
City politics junkies will be familiar with In Fact Daily, the no-frills, facts-only newsletter that covers City Hall and Travis County affairs throughout the year. The subscription-based, five-days-a-week newsletter (ranging from $400 a year for an individual to a $3,800 corporate rate) is notable for its adamant focus on nuts-and-bolts government matters and its attention to detail, including the numerous official meetings that occur every day and night in Austin and Travis County – those who couldn't be there personally consult IFD to find out what happened.
IFD was founded as a weekly mailer in 1995 by Ken Martin (now publisher/editor of The Austin Bulldog). Clifton joined him as a reporter in 1998, and in 1999 the newsletter became daily and online-only. Clifton bought it in 2000, editing it with a small staff of freelancers and a copy editor or two. That's still the basic model for now – the anticipated staff of five will include a development director and a copy editor – although Kanin says that over time he's hoping to add more and broader coverage. The publication will remain primarily subscription-based, but as a nonprofit will be filing for 501(c)(3) status and will be able to accept donations and presumably sponsorships, in the manner of the online Texas Tribune. (The nonprofit Online Journalism Project – which manages the weekly New Haven Independent in Connecticut – will be IFD's initial "fiscal sponsor.")
Kanin called the state-focused Texas Tribune "definitely a model for us," but added that "we're going to hang on to the pretty high paywall for now. We anticipate not fully getting rid of the subscription model, but perhaps [will use] a metered rate, like The New York Times, where you get something like 10 articles a month. We're also going to start work on a data side – materials gathered from the city through open records – and make it available to the public at no charge, but also develop some applications to help support the publication."
Clifton got her start in journalism at the El Paso Times and the Statesman before earning a law degree and serving as an assistant county attorney, assistant attorney general, and a municipal court judge. "I can still practice law," she joked, "and when I get to be 80, I'll go back to that."
Clifton said she expects the focus of IFD to stay much the same under the new arrangement, and called the change "a new adventure. I see the whole journalism business in a great state of flux, and everyone is trying to figure out a business model that can keep the workers employed and keep the public informed. It's been extremely stressful and rocky for a whole lot of publications. We were just fortunate that we figured out a model that worked to the extent that it did – that is the paywall. Now we see that we need some donations to make sure that we can keep going on a long-term basis. It's an interesting model, and I'm excited to pursue it."
"Readers should expect the same nose-to-the-ground, City Hall, watch-doggedness," said Kanin, "and if they notice any changes in the first few months, it will be more content. There may be a few more changes down the road, but nothing that folks won't be really excited about."