Published on September 6th, 2023
MONTCLAIR, N.J. — New Jersey news organizations ready to grow their audience and digital revenue, invest $10,000 in their technology and improve their overall sustainability can now apply to join the NJ Civic Information Consortium Technology & Sustainability Accelerator.
Up to 20 publishers from across New Jersey will be a part of a nine-month, team-based experience to find a better path toward sustainability by improving their digital revenue efforts, growing their audiences, and developing a stronger technology platform.
Accepted publishers will work with expert coaches at Blue Engine Collaborative to use the principles of performance-driven change to tackle a major strategic challenge to their digital business while gaining broad expertise in the aspects of running a successful local news outlet.
Specifically, publishers can expect the following between January and September 2024:
— Technology accelerator & grant: A month-long intensive experience to help organizations identify their key technology gaps and potential vendors to fill such gaps through a highly participatory process, ending with a $10,000 technology grant to implement new technological solutions.
— Sustainability accelerator. Over the next 12 weeks, teams from participating publishers will attend group workshops sharpening their approach to existing digital revenue streams, helping them identify new revenue streams, and learning how to execute against those new revenue opportunities in an agile, test-and-learn fashion. Teams will enjoy customized training built for their needs.
— 100-Day challenge. Fresh off their knowledge and with new technology solutions in play, teams will receive monthly sustainability coaching for 3 months following the conclusion of the Sustainability program to help them achieve a key business objective. Each team will commit to a SMART goal around digital revenue to achieve over the next 100 days (~3 months). Publishers will share the results of this activity with the group at the end of the program.
— Tailored coaching: In every aspect mentioned above, participating teams will meet regularly with their Blue Engine coach to work one-on-team to support the team in executing against their top challenges, provide “just in time” advice on issues of the moment, and provide outside perspective and guidance around tools, navigating people issues, carving out “quick wins” to build momentum, and guiding you toward faster growth.
Along the way, participants will build a deeper relationship with other news organizations in the state through a Slack workspace and regular sharing between attendees. At the midpoint and end of the program, as well as during small peer group sessions as needed, teams will update the cohort on progress toward their stated outcome goals.
You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:
— You are a news organization of any type (digital, print, broadcast, etc.) in the state of New Jersey.
— You have an existing digital revenue line of business (advertising, subscriptions, memberships, reader contributions, donations, etc.) or plan to launch one in 2024.
— You are willing to commit to attending all of the program sessions described in this announcement, or roughly 4 hours per week, per team. This is very important, as all selected participants will be required to attend all meetings and coaching sessions.
Additionally, we strongly encourage the following types of organizations to apply:
— Your news organization serves a historically marginalized community.
— Your news organization is located in a news desert.
— Your news organization is owned or led by Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian and/or other people of color.
The application deadline is 5 p.m. EST on Friday, Oct. 13. Blue Engine and the CIC hosted an open public webinar on Sept. 18 to talk more about the program and answer questions. You can watch it here.
How does the selection process work?
Participants will be selected by New Jersey Civic Information Consortium staff with input from Blue Engine and the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.
All applications will be reviewed and decisions rendered within three weeks of the application deadline.
The CIC may request additional information via email or phone call.
The CIC recognizes that far more than 20 news organizations will apply for this opportunity, and is committed to finding ways to support those that are not selected in other ways (or in a future program similar to this one.)
How will applications be judged?
Applications will be judged on three major criteria.
First, on demonstration of community impact. This is done by regularly producing original news reporting, sharing information that serves critical community needs, and exhibiting/showing an impact and connection to their audiences.
Second, on their vision for digital revenue growth and their operational strength as demonstrated by audience and business growth.
Third, on their service to underrepresented people including BIPOC communities and areas that would otherwise be a news desert.
Then, we’ll look to ensure the participants in the cohort cover a representative swath of New Jersey’s citizens and geographies.
How and why was Blue Engine selected to run this program?
In February 2023, the Consortium put out a Request for Proposals soliciting bids to run a program to improve infrastructure in the New Jersey news ecosystem. The RFP specifically asked for organizations that could coach on technology stack improvements, diversification of revenue streams and improving revenue generation. More about the RFP can be found here.
Five proposals were received. Three were invited for an interview with a team that included Consortium and Center for Cooperative Media staff. From there, Blue Engine was presented to the Board as the first choice because of the organization’s depth and breadth of experience coaching news organizations of all sizes through the Table Stakes, Google Labs, and Meta Accelerator programs.
When will I be notified of my application status?
We aim to notify all applicants of their status by Oct. 27, 2023.
Will the workshops and coaching be virtual or in-person?
All workshops and coaching will be virtual.
Who are the coaches and how will we be matched?
Coaches are drawn from Blue Engine’s pool of experts in audience engagement, revenue generation and technological change. Once participants are selected, Blue Engine will bring together a small coaching team and assign each team their coach.
The coaches work together as a team to support all of the publishers in the program. Participants can expect to learn from and draw on the expertise of all coaches in addition to their assigned coach.
Coaches are responsible for helping the organizations’ bring lessons learned in the group workshops back to their organizations and to help organizations prioritize and pursue opportunities for growth within the program.
Who from my organization will need to participate in this program, and how many of us?
For small companies of five or less team members, we ask for at least two team members who are responsible for the organization’s technological and business development.
For companies larger than five employees, we ask for a minimum of three team members and as many as five.
For even larger organizations, we ask that participants bring one newsroom representative in addition to business- and technology-related members.
I am from a very small organization and don’t know if I have the time to commit to doing this on my own, but I really need this support. Should I apply?
We encourage you to apply and note this concern in your application.
This program focuses on the practical aspects of improving your organization’s business. While the learning time is “extra” to what you are doing today, we believe such an investment is worth your time because, with the help of your coach, you’ll be able to apply your lessons almost immediately with the help of your coach. If your organization is a finalist for the program, we will be happy to discuss the program’s commitments with you to evaluate your suitability.
How does the technology grant work and what can I use it on?
Publishers will fill out a simple grant application for $10,000 awards, following consultation with their program coach. Blue Engine will give feedback to the Consortium on all grant applications and final grant approval rests with the Consortium.
We understand that technology transitions take time and that the grant funds will be spent during and potentially outside of the Accelerator program.
Who can I contact if I have more questions?
You can email [email protected]
Who is Blue Engine Collaborative?
Blue Engine is a team of dozens of mission-driven coaches and advisors around the globe who have coached more than 1,000 organizations, mostly inside of the news industry, on digital transformation, audience growth, and revenue (subscriptions and membership, sponsorship and advertising, philanthropic grants and gifts, events, etc.).
For more information about the Consortium, please visit our website at njcivicinfo.org.