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As Springfield Daily Citizen goes live, more funding details emerge

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The city’s newest news organization, the Springfield Daily Citizen, launched in mid-February with a new funding model for a local publication.

The Daily Citizen is a nonprofit news organization, which offers subscriptions and accepts donations from people who support its mission. It also offers some advertising.

“In the long run, we’re looking at a mix of revenue – basically, revenue from readers through subscriptions and sponsorships from local organizations and businesses, which get some advertising in return for their sponsorship,” CEO David Stoeffler said.

“Just like any other nonprofits, there will be people who want to support the overall mission and who make donations over the required subscription price.”

Some grant funding likely will be part of the pie as well, though Stoeffler noted grants are limited and tend to be focused on specific areas of coverage, like health issues or diverse viewpoints.

When Springfield Business Journal last spoke with Stoeffler in October, he declined to discuss the publication’s board structure or funding sources, though the four-person board of directors and donors are now listed on the website.

The Daily Citizen’s website lists all donors who give more than $5,000, and most donors who give below that amount also are listed, though they may choose to have their names omitted, according to Stoeffler.

As of March 3, the outlet’s website lists 10 donations at the $5,000-and-above level for 2021 or 2022, though exact amounts are unspecified. These include founder and board member, Tom Carlson, as well as Missouri State University President Clif Smart and his wife, Gail. MSU provides free housing for the Daily Citizen in its on-campus Freudenberger House.

Other major donors are publication board member Jim Anderson and his wife, Janet, the Rob and Sally Baird Fund, the Thomas H. and Josephine Baird Memorial Fund, Great Southern Bank, David and Stacey O’Reilly, the Thomas and Kimberly Prater Family Fund, the Turner Family Foundation and the Tal and Rosalie O’Reilly Wooten Family Foundation Fund.

The list of donations of less than $5,000 in 2021 or 2022 stands at 23, and notable names include former City Utilities of Springfield leader John Twitty, Stoeffler himself and board members Suzanne Shaw and Fritz Jacobi (listed with Kim Jacobi).

Shaw got her start with the Daily Citizen as a member of its planning group. While the group formed around Memorial Day 2021, she joined in July and said she was a representative for MSU, for which she is vice president for marketing and communications. Carlson invited her to join the first board of directors.

She said she liked the fact that the news outlet aligns with the university’s public affairs mission, but MSU didn’t require that it have representation on the board.

“We felt honored to be asked to be part of it,” she said.

Shaw said the board’s role is not to interfere with news reporting for the outlet; rather, the board has oversight of the organization and its policies.  Stoeffler said the board has chosen not to post its full bylaws.

“If there were any type of conflict of interest, I would remove myself,” Shaw said.

When asked what she thought of the outlet’s rollout, Shaw said she was pleased.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “David Stoeffler and the team have done just an extraordinary job of creating something out of nothing, to be perfectly honest. When you think that this was an idea that was being reviewed in June and now it’s an actual publication, with strong stories, strong writers, strong editors – I am very impressed, and I’m excited to be part of it.”

Stoeffler said advertising in the Daily Citizen is comparable to what one might find on public radio. He said the ads are not intrusive – there are no pop-ups, for example.

“It has to really talk about a brand or its values and building customer loyalty,” he said. “It’s not selling a particular product or giving the price of oranges this week. … It’s people who are concerned about having an engaged and informed community.”

Stoeffler acknowledged that starting salaries for reporters are higher than average in Springfield, with a reporter job posting on Indeed showing a salary range of $41,600 to $52,000. By comparison, Glassdoor reports the average salary for a reporter in the Springfield area to be $42,015.  The publication’s staff page lists 11 staff members, including Stoeffler.

“We have other challenges,” Stoeffler said. “As a small, new nonprofit organization, we don’t have the same kind of benefits package that some other employers might be able to offer, so we want to be sure that we can provide a total compensation that is competitive.”

Stoeffler said the publication wanted to invest in talented and experienced people, and his least experienced person is probably in the range of 7-10 years into the profession.

Stoeffler added the publication collaborates with but is separate from MSU, and the newsroom runs separately from the university and other donors.

“There are no boundaries on our coverage of Missouri State, nor any other organization in town,” he said.

Stoeffler said he was in the for-profit news business for 35-plus years, and he heard many of the same kinds of questions about being beholden to funders, though in the for-profit realm, those were car dealers, real estate companies and other major advertisers.

“To me, that part of it is not different; there’s just a different type of potential conflict,” he said. “The difference in the case of a nonprofit like ours is we’re trying to be as transparent as we can with our readers about the sources of funding so they can judge for themselves.”

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