Identifying and defining an emerging category of news organizations is no simple task. With no proven model yet standard, the landscape is diverse. First, over a period of four months, researchers conducted an audit of the landscape of hundreds of new non-profit websites across the United States that offer news. Researchers then filtered that group to include only sites that portrayed themselves as news operations rather than advocates; sites at which the majority of content offered was original news reporting rather than aggregation or opinion; and sites that were active, publishing new material at least weekly.

That universe was still quite broad. There are hundreds of sites that cover hyperlocal news, even down to the neighborhood level, and others that focus on just one subject area, such as education or health.[1] To examine a comparable set of sites, researchers filtered the list further to those that were either state-wide or national in scope and that covered a range of subjects.

In addition to the non-profit sites, researchers found seven commercial sites (those registered as limited liability companies and that depend primarily on advertising for their ongoing operations) that fit these
criteria. Some of these, such as Progress Illinois, had ties to financial backers with political interests. These sites were included in the study to allow researchers to assess whether their commercial status might correlate in
any way to the nature of content they produced. Thus the total sample made for a universe of 46 sites.

Researchers then analyzed the sites at two levels. First they performed an audit of the sites and the organizations behind them-staffing, revenue streams and how much each site said about itself, its funding, its mission and its backers. Second, researchers conducted a content analysis sampled from a month’s worth of news stories on each site to assess productivity of the sites and whether there was a discernible ideological flavor to the news reporting.

(For a complete methodology, including more detailed explanations of how variables and scales were constructed, click here)

[1]Journalist Michael Fancher highlighted dozens of these kinds of sites in Seattle alone in a special report for PEJ. Another journalist, Michele McLellan, counts many more local sites in a series of lists she updates at the University of Missouri’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.