Guide to Online News Startups FAQ

All you ever wanted to know about the Guide to Online News Startups

What is the Guide to Online News Startups?

The Guide to Online News Startups, formerly known as the News Frontier Database, is a searchable, living, and ongoing documentation of digital news outlets across the country. Featuring originally reported profiles and extensive data sets on each outlet, the Guide is a tool for those who study or pursue online journalism, a window into that world for the uninitiated, and, like any journalistic product, a means by which to shed light on an important topic. We plan to build the Guide into the most comprehensive resource of its kind.

How do you decide which sites to include?

We’re glad to see journalism flowering online in many forms, but we’ve decided to limit the makeup of this Guide to news organizations that fit the following criteria. (We hope that a discussion of the rightness of this decision can take place in the comments section below.)

(1) Digital news sites included in the Guide should be primarily devoted to original reporting and content production.

(2) With rare exceptions, the outlet should have at least one full-time employee.

(3) The digital news site should be something other than the web arm of a legacy media entity. (This may soon change. We hope to profile notable web-only projects from legacy outlets soon. Stay tuned.)

(4) The digital news site should be making a serious effort to sustain its work financially, whether that be through advertising, grants, or other revenue sources. (The language and spirit of this last criterion borrow from the work of Michele McLellan.)

So this isn’t a list of the best/most noteworthy digital news sites out there?

No. This isn’t a best-of list or ranking system, and inclusion in the Guide doesn’t necessarily mean the CJR seal of approval. Sometimes we think a site is great and sometimes we think it has room for improvement (read a given site’s profile to see what we think).

That said, inclusion in the Guide does guarantee that a site is somehow worth paying attention to or talking about. Sometimes this is because they are doing something innovative; sometimes this is because they’re indicative of a trend in digital journalism nationally or in a given state or region. We seek to provide a realistic portrait of the digital news landscape, and if some states have more robust entries in the Guide than others that’s either because (1) we haven’t found better sites there, in which case you need to tip us off to their existence or (2) there’s not a whole lot going on in that state in terms of non-legacy online journalism.

Why isn’t [WikiLeaks / Twitter / another site I enjoy] in the Guide?

The answer to this question varies depending on the site in question. Some sites aren’t included simply because we have limited resources and haven’t gotten around to profiling them yet; other sites have yet to come to our attention (which can be remedied by sending us tips); still others don’t fit our criteria (listed above).

In the case of WikiLeaks, for example, we haven’t included it because it is not based in the United States, and we don’t currently have the resources to reach outside this country’s borders; Twitter is not included because we’re focused on journalistic organizations rather than technologies or infrastructures on which journalism sometimes exists; and other legacy news organizations that have made the leap to the web are not included because we’re focusing on non-legacy media. This is not because we don’t recognize the contributions of legacy outlets to online news (in fact, they do the bulk of the reporting that exists online, as study after study has shown). We focused on non-legacy outlets simply because it’s a new and exciting kind of journalism, much discussed in the hypothetical, about which little knowledge currently exists.

Eventually, we will revise our criteria and expand the scope of the Guide to include web-only projects by legacy outlets.

Why are there both national and local news sites listed in the Guide? Do you focus more on one than the other?

Though we continue to profile national outlets, a large majority of the news sites included in the Guide cover state or local news. This is simply because we saw a gap in knowledge about the operations of local news sites that needed filling, and because we felt the Guide could be of greatest benefit to the many startups working to make online news sustainable beyond the national level.

I’ve got a news site. How can I get it into the Guide?

That’s easy. Just fill out this survey form and we’ll have someone get in touch to interview you and write a profile of your site.

I read a news site. How can I recommend it for the Guide?

Send an e-mail to the tip line, or, if you are in touch with the site’s editor, ask him or her to fill out our survey and/or provide us with their contact info so that we can tell them to do so.

How can I help make the Guide better?

First, you can submit your news site or recommend another for inclusion.

If you have any idea at all about how we can make the Guide better, we’d love to hear it. E-mail us here.

If you’re a writer interested in contributing profiles to the Guide, e-mail us here.

If you’re a student or recent graduate who would like to intern as a writer/ reporter for the Guide, e-mail us here. We’ve already had a number of interns successfully publish work in the Guide and on

If you teach at a university and would like to have your students contribute articles and research to the Guide, e-mail us here. We’ve already had one successful partnership with the University of Alabama, which assigned some of its graduate students to write articles for the Guide. We’re interesting in pursuing more of these partnerships.

Where do you get your funding?

The Guide is made possible by a multi-year grant from the Open Society Institute. Their media program “assists in the development and establishment of media systems marked by freedom, pluralism, and the inclusion of minority voices and opinions.” The Guide is aimed at fostering a more robust and sustainable online media by creating a body of information on the practices and makeup of digital journalism. It is intended to be a tool for news entrepreneurs, philanthropic organizations, and readers.

Where can I find the original editorial announcing the Guide?

It’s here, and the subsequent editorial announcing new entries is here.

Why can’t I search by multiple criteria (so that I can find sites with 2-5 business staffers in Connecticut, for example)?

We have an advanced search function built and ready to launch, but are waiting until we have more entries in the Guide so that search results are more robust. Stay tuned.

What can I expect to find in a given entry?

Each entry is composed of a 500- to 1000-word originally reported profile of the outlet in question (based on an interview or interviews with a principal person at that site, a screenshot of the site’s homepage, and a data set.

The profile details the site’s editorial and business operations, and also provides anecdotes, stories from the sites past, hopes for its future, occasional commentary and critique, and, most importantly, the insights/ war stories of the web journalist we interviewed. We think they’re engaging and, most of all, informative.

The data set breaks down information on the site’s location, the type of coverage it offers; whether the site is a for-profit, nonprofit, or unincorporated; the number of editorial and business employees; the number of active volunteers; year founded, revenue sources; institutional support (listing the foundations from which the site has received grants); the names of principal staff members; content and business affiliations; and the site’s content management system (CMS).

What are all these revenue sources?

The Guide allows users to search by a whopping seventeen different types of revenue sources. Here’s a breakdown of what each source means.

Local Ads – Geographically based advertising, whether it’s display ads, direct sale, sold through an advertising network, or social-media based.

National Ads – Any national advertising, whether via direct sale or through an ad network such as Google Ads.

Print Ads – Although the sites in the Guide are all primarily devoted to digital journalism, a few, such as Politico, also have a print product in which they print stories and sell advertisements (usually at better rates than online advertising can currently garner).

Business Services – A broad category. Not to be redundant, but any services provided to a business. Helping run their twitter feed, doing customized research on their behalf, etc.

Donations – Donations from individuals, whether small gifts via PayPal or large gifts from major donors.

Endowment – The site has a sum of money which earns interest. The interest pays for expenses (as opposed to expenses being paid out of the original sum.)

Events – Events put on by the site to earn revenue (whether via ticket sales or a free event to attract donations).

Grants – Grants from a foundation.

Memberships – Readers pay a fee (sometimes a fixed price, sometimes a suggested donation). Sometimes being a member is the only way to receive certain content or services from a site, and other times it is an incentive to donate with no added benefits.

Merchandise – T-shirts, coffee mugs, or any other hard goods sold by the site to earn revenue.

Sponsorships – Businesses pay to be affiliated with the site. This has a number of variations. Sometimes sponsors are simply listed on a given site’s homepage, making it a kind of display advertising; other times there is a social media promotion component or other benefits.

Subscriptions – Readers pay a fee to be allowed access to the site’s content (or an extra portion of the site’s content) for a designated period of time. (usually monthly).
Syndicated Content – Other news organizations pay the site a fee to use their content.

Training – Individuals or organizations pay the site a fee in order to be trained in social media, web development, research, or another specialty of the site.

Transactions – The site drives users to a business and takes a cut of the purchases they make. (Example: Amazon affiliates post an Amazon on their site, readers click through and if they buy a book the site takes a cut.)

Venture Capital – Received an investment from venture capital firm.

Other – Anything other than the revenue sources listed above. When a way in which a site earns revenue falls outside of any of these categories, we tag it as “Other Revenue” and spell out what unique form of revenue generation they’ve implemented in the data set.

In the “Institutional Support” category of the searches and data sets, what do you mean by “Other Foundation” and “Other Community Foundation”?

Some foundations are coded into the Guide so that users can run a search and find all of the sites supported by that foundation; others are not. When a foundation that has supported a given site is not coded into the system, we tag the entry as “Other Foundation” and then list the specific foundation in the “Affiliations” section of the data set. (Hint: Searching the Guide for “Other Foundations” is a great way to find out about lesser known foundations that support journalism.)

As for “Other Community Foundation”, local community foundations have stepped up in a big way to fund journalism in their communities. Since they’re locally based there are far too many to code into the system individually, so when a community foundation is involved we tag the entry as “Other Community Foundation”. Searching for “Other Community Foundation” will show all the sites in the Guide that have been supported by a local community foundation.

Who are the people who built this Guide?

Project Manager: Michael Meyer

Web Development & Strategy: Dean Pajevic, Jennifer Braun, Michael Murphy

Contributors: Anthony Badami, Timothy Bella, Chris Benz, Leah Binkowitz, Connor Boals, Brendan Buhler, Daniel Denvir, Dylan DePice, David Downs, Brian Patrick Eha, Sam Eifling, Alex Fekula, Colin Fleming, Ian Fullerton, Sean Gandert, Sara Germano, Kathy Gilsinan, Tyler Jones, Caitlin Kasunich, Lauren Kirchner, Daniel Luzer, Evan MacDonald, Mike Madden, Tom Marcinko, Chasen Marshall, Joel Meares, Richard Nieva, Brett Norman, Nick Novak, Maura O’Connor, Isaac Olson, Dohini Patel, Nicholas Phillips, Julia Pyper, Victoria Rau, Paige Rentz, David Riedel, Armin Rosen, Hiten Samhani, Alysia Santo, Patricia Sauthoff, Georgia Schoonmaker, Erik Shilling, Evan Simko-Bednarski, Arvin Temkar, Jeremy White, Nicolas Zimmerman

Research Assistants: A.J. Hudson, Annie Wu, Justin Yang

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Michael Canyon Meyer is a freelance journalist and former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter at @mcm_nm.