Strategic Plan

for a

Non-Profit Media Clearinghouse







Prepared by:

Straus Communications

28 Second Street, Suite 500

San Francisco, CA 94105

Phone: (415) 777-1170



October 1, 2003

Table of Contents


Background *

Project Description *

Vision *

Target Audience *

Demand *

Phase I — SNC Website Launch with Core Content and Services *

Phase II — SNC Website Expansion *

Phase III — Additional Content and Personalized Services *

Evaluation *

Key Players *

Budget *

Revenue Sources *

Disclosure Policy *

Next Steps *

Appendix I — Advisory Board *

Appendix II — Media Survey *

Appendix III — Media Outlets Participating in the Survey *

Appendix IV — Content and Services Matrix *

Appendix V — Website Sitemap *

Appendix VI — Journalists Already Accessing SNC resources *

Appendix VII — Two-Year Budget *


Project Narrative and Summary


In 2002, Straus Communications applied to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for $16,626.50 to conduct a feasibility study to determine what would be required to establish a media clearinghouse to provide information to the media on issues of organic food production, sustainable agriculture, community-based food systems, and related environmental, social and economic issues.

Straus began by forming an eight-person advisory committee consisting of Frank Allen, Bob and Jane Fleck, David Irons, Jerry Kay, Frances Moore Lappé, Teresa Schilling, and Michael Straus (see Appendix I for advisory board members’ affiliations and biographies).

In February 2003, the advisory board was convened via conference call to discuss the media clearinghouse proposal and develop a plan of action and timeline for implementing it. The board agreed that it needed to conduct a survey of food and environmental journalists to determine their interests in and needs from a clearinghouse.

In consultation with the advisory board members, Straus Communications staff members developed questions for the survey (see Appendix II), which was conducted online using the on-line survey service. Straus Communications used its Media Map Performa database to select a representative sample of journalists from a variety of media and subject areas (see Appendix III).

The survey was conducted anonymously — although board members knew the journalists who were taking part, individual responses and comments were not identified by respondent. Teresa Schilling analyzed the results of the survey and wrote a report on its results for the other members of the board.

Based on their analysis of the results of the survey, and additional input from advisory board members, journalists, and other interested parties, Straus Communications initiated this strategic plan, as well as a mock-up of a website for a potential media clearinghouse.

After incorporating feedback from the advisory board into the plan, it was submitted to the Kellogg Foundation on October 1, 2003. The strategic plan calls for the creation of media clearinghouse called the Sustainable News Center (SNC), which will exist primarily online as a website,

The Sustainable News Center will be deployed in three phases over two years. In the first six months (Phase I), the website will be launched with news and trend stories, an archive of past stories, and a list of subject experts. In the second six months (Phase II), the website will gain more content — including a weekly electronic newsletter. In the second year (Phase III), additional content will be pushed to members, and customized content and services will be available on a fee-for-use basis.

The strategic plan identifies various nonprofits that have been approached about contributing content to the SNC and being listed in its experts database, as well as several partner organizations that have agreed to help distribute information, and journalists who have indicated an interest in receiving it. The plan envisions a two-year budget of $549,800, and outlines several possible sources of revenue to help defray some of these costs.


"Organic," which often serves as a recognizable, familiar starting point for journalists covering environmental issues, is a rapidly growing industry. The global market for organic products reached $23 billion in 2002, according to Organic Monitor. As a result, organic food and related sustainable agriculture and environmental issues are seeing a commensurate rise in media coverage and public attention.

Unfortunately, communications support on these issues has not kept pace with the rising demand for information and content, and remains fragmented and inconsistent. Resources are dispersed, which reinforces a negative impression of marginalization and makes extensive mainstream coverage difficult.

Most companies, non-profit organizations, and foundations that work in the organic/ sustainable agriculture field have not developed on-going and efficient means of conveying their messages to the press. The few that do have limited resources tend to focus primarily on promoting their own products and programs, and thus often miss opportunities to promote coverage of broader issues — and the mutually beneficial synergies this would create.

Progressive coalitions, and services such as Environmental Media Services (EMS), offer some media tools and resources, but these are often tailored to specific campaigns with limited life spans. EMS, which used to serve as the kind of "one-stop shop" we envision, has recently suffered cutbacks, and no longer offers the same breadth of current information it once did, particularly on the complex topic of sustainability. Other services such as GreenMedia Toolshed target other non-profit organizations themselves rather than the press as their primary focus.

By contrast, non-organic industry-sponsored trade groups and think tanks have amassed tremendous funding for public relations campaigns. Two prominent examples are the Biotech Industry Organizations’ $25 million five-year media campaign, and an anti-regulation website ( developed by a public relations agency funded by Philip Morris.

Thus, there is a clear need for a single, comprehensive information resource to serve as a consistent and proactive voice for the organic/sustainable food community, and to help members of the media more easily obtain the information they need to accurately cover organic products, sustainable agriculture, and related environmental, economic, and social issues.

In order to assess the media’s interest in a web-based information clearinghouse, Straus Communications conducted a survey of reporters, journalists, editors and producers who cover sustainability, food, agriculture, biotechnology, business, and the environment. We developed an 11-question survey (see Appendix II) on whether they would find a clearinghouse useful, and what types of information they would like it to have. Follow-up calls were made to a dozen key reporters to gather more detailed responses.

Respondents ranked universities and press releases highest among their current sources of information. Virtually all (96%) indicated that an information clearinghouse would be a valuable tool in their work. They expressed interest in a regularly updated website with current news and trends. Among possible content options, most preferred briefings on "hot" issues and research, factsheets, and a list of issue experts. Many (60%) said that a live human contact for additional information would be helpful. One noted that royalty-free photos would also be very helpful.

Some were open to receiving updates with story suggestions, and the majority prefers to receive information by e-mail rather than fax or phone; many said they prefer to check the website. A number warned that content should be short and newsworthy, avoid propaganda, and be tailored to specific audiences, such as the food retail industry.


Project Description

Straus Communications proposes to develop a non-profit web-based media "portal" called the Sustainable News Center (SNC) to give members of the media access to tools and services that will inform and support their coverage of organic and sustainable agriculture, resource conservation, and environmental, social and economic issues. The SNC’s purpose would be to provide journalists and editors of every ‘beat’ with a single destination for information and tools to assist them in researching and developing accurate, in-depth reporting on these issues. It would compile comprehensive, up-to-date information on diverse but interrelated subjects, and put it at the media’s fingertips.

To maintain its independence and credibility as a source of unbiased information for news organizations and the general public, the SNC would be established as a California not-for-profit corporation with a CEO, secretary/treasurer, and advisory board to oversee content and operations. It would also apply for federal 501(C)3 tax-exempt status, or be set up under the umbrella of another, pre-existing non-profit organization.



The SNC’s vision is to become the leading press resource on the broad range of issues encompassed by the somewhat amorphous term "sustainability." We want to secure the media’s trust as an independent, accurate and reliable information provider. Our goal is to see consistent, accurate reporting throughout the U.S. in newspapers, magazines, and television and radio broadcasts at the national, regional and local levels.

In the long term, the SNC would serve as the first step to creating a new Sustainability media ‘beat’, demonstrating the inter-relationship between seemingly diverse-but-interconnected issues.


Target Audience

The SNC’s primary audiences include journalist, reporters, editors and producers covering beats including food, agriculture, environment, natural resources, business, lifestyle, metro, features and breaking news. In addition, there are freelance journalists, non-profits, academics, and other researchers who would benefit from SNC’s aggregation and editing of useful information.



In the past ten months alone, Straus Communications has fielded dozens of requests for experts and information resources, resulting in stories reaching more than 17 million people (see Appendix VI).


The SNC website will provide a variety of content and services to meet the diverse needs of the press and others, and will promote accurate, informed reporting on sustainable agriculture and organic products. The content for the site will come from non-profits, foundations, research institutes, and trade associations, which will send news releases and other information to SNC to be edited and posted on the site by the SNC staff. We have made initial inquiries to a number of organizations about providing this content, such as:

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)

Gary Peterson, development director

(530) 756-8518 x23

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)

Mark Ritchie, executive director

(612) 870-3400

Kristen Corselius, project coordinator

Food and Society Policy Fellows Program

(866) 765-334

Food First!/Institute for Food and Development Policy (IFDP)

Anuradha Mittal, director

(510) 654-4400


Tim Bowser, executive director

(814) 349-6000

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)

Bob Scowcroft, co-founder/executive director

(831) 426-6606

(44) 1491 832111

Organic Trade Association (OTA)

Katherine DiMatteo, director

(413) 774-7511 x17

Redefining Progress

Michel Gelobter, executive director

(510) 444-3041

The Rodale Institute

Anthony Rodale, chairman

(610) 683-1400


Development Timeline*

Phase I — SNC Website Launch with Core Content and Services

The first six months of the project would be focused on launching the website,, which will serve as the SNC’s functional hub and virtual home. Two full-time staff members will manage and update the site’s content, which will initially comprise:



Customized services

The expert database will launch with bios, subject specialties, and photos of eight experts:


Phase II — SNC Website Expansion

The second six months of the project consists of expanding the website with additional content, customized services, and distribution vehicles:



Distribution vehicles designed to "push" news and information to journalists, rather than requiring them to "pull" it themselves from the SNC website. These include:


Phase III — Additional Content and Personalized Services

The second year of SNC’s operations would involve adding both non-news and in-house content, and customized services to help working journalists track and produce stories.


Content could be in the public domain or licensed for a fee, which the SNC could use as revenue source. Members of the media would have to log in to a password-protected online catalogue, in order for SNC to enforce licensing, collect fees (if any), and track usage. Images and audio would be available for direct download over high-bandwidth Internet connections.

Due to the large file sizes required for broadcast-quality video, SNC may be limited to providing descriptions of the footage — along with low-resolution clips to demonstrate the types of images available — on the website, and delivering the actual video footage by overnight mail.


Beyond Phase III

There are additional resources and services that could be developed after SNC’s second year, such as expanding the Hotline to include telephone service, and a "fact finding" service for specific issue-oriented questions from journalists and other SNC users.


The SNC can track interest in and use of its services, and the success of its marketing and outreach, in a variety of ways:

In addition, Straus Communications will be in constant dialogue with members of the press to assure the SNC’s continual evolution to meet the changing demands of the market.

Initially, the total number of new/repeat visits could be used to gauge general interest and marketing/outreach success. Since the site is being pitched primarily to journalists, it is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of such visits would be from working media.

We will compare the total number of visits to the number of people who subscribe to the e-mail newsletter, seek a log-in password to use specific services on the site, etc. These metrics will of course be dependent on what content/services are available in each phase, and should therefore rise and fall over time.

Key Players


Straus Communications

The Sustainable News Center is the brainchild of Straus Communications founder and president Michael Straus (see biography in advisory board section below). For ten years, Michael has worked in PR/marketing for organic products, sustainable agriculture and related environmental, economic, and social issues and has built strong relationships with food and agriculture writers at leading media outlets, including the New York Times, Newsweek, The Economist, Gourmet, San Francisco Chronicle, Organic Style, and Natural Home magazine.



Founded in 1997, AScribe Newswire has become the nation's leading national newswire for public-interest news from nonprofit, independent, and public-sector organizations Through the transmission facilities of the Associated Press and other digital networks, news releases from more than 600 AScribe members news releases flow together with news from many of the nation's best-known institutions to journalists covering education, economics, health, science, environment, culture and other public-interest and public-policy issues.

AScribe feeds directly into newsroom systems at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time, BusinessWeek, National Public Radio and scores of other publications and broadcast media. Ascribe also provides content to major electronic databases that reporters and editors use such as LexisNexis and DowJones-Reuters' Factiva, and to scores of websites and webportals that publish news releases as content.

Regular AScribe members include leading non-profit organizations such as Consumers Union, Environmental Defense, the National Science Foundation, PolicyLink, and the Society of Environmental Journalists; think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment, and the Urban, Aspen, and Rocky Mountain Institutes; hundreds of universities and research centers (including Chicago, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, the UC system, Virginia, Yale, and eight national research labs); and more than 50 foundations such as Ford, MacArthur, Kaiser Family, Irvine, Kellogg, Mott, Joyce, Annie E. Casey, Robert Wood Johnson, Rockefeller, Heinz Endowment, Carnegie Corporation, and Pew Trusts.


Environmental News Network (ENN)

Veteran broadcaster Jerry Kay (see advisory board member biographies below) founded ENN in 1993 as a monthly print publication called Environmental News Briefing. In 1995 he launched a companion website to reach a broader, more diverse audience. Today ENN provides timely environmental news, daily feature stories, live chats, interactive quizzes, forums for debate, audio, video, and more to an audience of over 400,000 website visitors.

ENN’s goal is to educate the public on major environmental issues, and to provide tools to help individuals take action in their own communities. These include a non-profit affiliate program, an environmental e-mail newsletter with 25,000 subscribers, free "EcoBytes" content for other websites, online advertising and sponsorship opportunities, and a "Green business center" that promotes environmentally-friendly products and services.

The Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR)

IJNR is an independent non-profit educational foundation striving to increase the accuracy, balance, depth, and context in news coverage of natural resources and the environment. To alter the traditional interaction between journalists and their sources, IJNR arranges for them to undertake outdoor expeditions together. These shared experiences serve as a starting point for improving the quality of public discourse on environmental and natural-resource issues.

IJNR's programs are designed to serve the information "gatekeepers" who inform and influence decisionmakers and the general public. Its programs concentrate on timely themes and issues that are relevant and useful for any newsroom. The effectiveness of IJNR’s efforts is enriched by the specific contextual elements of each geographic setting.


The Sustainable News Center advisory committee developed an estimated budget (see Appendix VII) for launching, running, and expanding the SNC over two years. It includes:

Based on an operational plan to implement all of the potential SNC components in three phases over two years (see Appendix VII), the projected budget would be $259,400 the first year (Phases I and II), and $290,400 the second year. This amounts to a two-year total of $549,800.


Revenue Sources

In addition to donations and grants from foundations and individuals, SNC has identified several potential revenue streams to help defray some of the costs associated with implementing the two-year strategic plan. These include:


Disclosure Policy

The Sustainable News Center’ mission is to be the leading media resource on sustainable agriculture and related environmental, economic and social issues. To do so we must have the media’s trust as an accurate, independent, and reliable source of information. Therefore, SNC has developed funding guidelines to protect its integrity and credibility as a free and independent journalistic institution.

These guidelines are intended to ensure that SNC retains full editorial control over all content it provides, that its various funding sources do not create the perception that anyone other than SNC has exercised editorial control or otherwise inappropriately influenced content, and that SNC’s non-commercial character is protected and maintained.

SNC’s funders, including underwriters, contribute funds and/or in-kind services to finance, in whole or in part, the acquisition, production, and/or distribution of SNC content. SNC’s identifies all of its funders and content underwriters on its "Funding and Support" page. Funders are not permitted to exercise any inappropriate influence over the content they support.

Three questions determine the acceptability of every proposed funding arrangement:


Next Steps

Appendix I — Advisory Board


Frank Allen

President and executive director, Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR)

Frank has been a reporter and editor for more than 25 years, at dailies and news services in Oregon, Arizona, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania. Frank spent 14 years at the Wall Street Journal, as an editor for Page One and for the Second Front in New York, as chief of the Philadelphia bureau for nine years, and later as the paper's first environment editor.


Bob and Jane Fleck

Founders and principals, Fleck TV

Jane and Robert Fleck write, produce, direct, and edit both non-fiction and dramatic narrative films and television. Their television work has appeared on all six major networks as well as many cable broadcasters. A number of their programs have been nominated for national Emmys and won Cable Ace awards.

Films they have produced have received awards from the New York Film Festival, the Breckenridge Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival. They have also produced a number of DVD documentaries to accompany studio releases of feature films. Music videos they have produced have won national awards.

They are currently producing a series for PBS about the social impact of surging demand for organic foods, another series for PBS of one-minute "micro documentaries" about local food systems, and an extreme sports series for the Game Show Network. Robert and Jane are also Los Angeles County certified agricultural producers, and farm part time.


David Irons

Co-founder and vice president of marketing, AScribe/Public Interest Newswire

David Irons directs marketing, communications, and member relations with the 600 nonprofit organizations that distribute news via AScribe. Before starting AScribe, he directed communications for Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was also a consultant on media and public affairs to the president of Harvard.

A former speechwriter for Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and research director of Boston’s office of marketing and development, he consults on strategic communication to leaders of foundations and universities, and is a frequent speaker and panelist on media relations. He is a graduate of Harvard College.


Jerry Kay

Founder/Director, Science Interchange

General Manager, Environmental News Network (ENN)

Jerry Kay is a veteran broadcaster with over 30 years experience in media as an executive producer, on-air talent, writer, and director. Jerry has produced web, audio, and video content focused in the environmental and non-profit sectors. He has a wide background in media, entertainment, science content programming, and the arts. Jerry has been an on-camera host for many organizations and companies including the U.S. Geological Survey, National Audubon Society, National Park Service, JC Penney, Hewlett Packard, and California’s Calfed program.


Frances Moore Lappé


Frances Moore Lappé wrote the 1971 three million-copy bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet — a classic that’s still opening readers’ eyes to the power of their own choices. Her most recent book, written with her daughter Anna Lappé, is Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet (Tarcher/Putnam, 2002). She is the author of 12 other books, which have been used in a broad array of university courses in more than 50 countries.

Ms. Lappé’s articles have appeared in publications as diverse as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Readers' Digest, Chemistry, Le Monde Diplomatique, National Civic Review, Tikkun, and Harpers. Her life and work have been featured in People magazine, the Boston Globe magazine, Utne Reader, Vegetarian Times and many other publications.

Frances is the co-founder of two national organizations — the California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy (known as Food First) and the Center for Living Democracy, a ten-year initiative to accelerate the spread of democratic innovation.

She is the winner of the 2003 Rachel Carson Environmental Award. While writing Hope’s Edge, Frances was a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has received 16 honorary doctorates and in 1987 became the fourth American to receive the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the "Alternative Nobel."


Teresa Schilling

Communications Consultant, EcoFlak

Teresa has worked on a number of environmental ballot campaigns, including California’s first parks bond measure. She coordinated regulatory lobbying for the implementation of Proposition 65, and founded a media relations program for Sierra Club California.

As a media director for the Sierra Club, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, and program director for Environmental Media Services, she has created coalition campaigns throughout the country to promote and protect the environment.

As communications director for the California League of Conservation Voters, she wrote its annual Environmental Scorecard and ran its media campaign to elect the state’s first pro-environment governor in nearly two decades. A graduate of the University of California at Davis, she is currently a consultant to a wide range of environmental and progressive policy groups.

Appendix II — Media Survey


  1. Would you find a website that compiles detailed background information on various sustainability issues (from organic food and agricultural biotechnology, to urban sprawl and natural resource conservation) to be helpful?
  2. [Yes] [No] Comments:

  3. How helpful would you find these various types of information on a Sustainability clearinghouse website? [Each question was followed by numbered buttons]:
  4. 1
    [Very helpful]
    [Somewhat helpful]
    [Not very helpful]
    [Not helpful]


  1. How would you like to learn about new developments? (Check all that apply)

  1. If you marked e-newsletter or fax updates above, how often would you prefer to receive them?


  1. Would you be interested in receiving a periodic "tip sheet" on story ideas?
  2. [Yes] [No] Comments:

  3. When you are writing about sustainability, what sources do you currently use for information?
  4. What services would you find helpful to localize breaking stories? (check all that apply)


  1. What is your primary medium?


  1. What is your beat? (check all that apply)


  1. What is your title?


  1. Would you be interested in becoming more involved in setting up/advising the set up of this resource center?


  1. We’ve described to you the concept of our website. Are there any parts of it you would not use, and why? Is there some reason why you wouldn’t use a website like this? What aspects would prevent you from using the website?

Appendix III — Media Outlets Participating in the Survey*

Appendix IV — Content and Services Matrix


Website location

Sub-page/ element

(Location) Description


Potential partners*

Home page

Story of the Week

(Home) Featured story with several paragraphs, linked to full article





In the News

(Home page) Headlines and first paragraphs of recent related news, linked to full articles




Hot Topics

(Home) Intros to dynamic list of "hot topics" (stories and trends), linked to full treatments



News Releases

(Home) Headlines of new press releases indexed by issue, groups, etc, linked to full release





(link from Home) List, description of all resources, search form (advanced search of calendar, news releases




directory of orgs.

(link from Resources) List, overview of organizations who play prominent role in sustainability work, by topics



experts list

(link from Resources) List, brief bios of available experts with contact info



news archives

(link from Resources) Archive of In the News articles, other news content




(link from Resources) Definitions of frequently used sustainability terms




(link from Resources) Profiles of farmers, businesspeople, etc



data and statistics

(link from Resources) Relevant sourced statistics with analysis



events calendar

(link from Home) Searchable listing of related events



Image bank

(link from Resources) photos charts, graphs, illustrations, video for stories





(Link from Home) in-depth coverage of major issues, indexed by issue, links to experts, directory, stats etc.



Issue briefings

(Link from Issues) 3-5 page back-ground, details on major issues





One-on-one help to find local contacts; research specific story info; find expert to respond to issue-oriented question(s)



News releases

in-house news releases on trends, research, or other developments




in-house/contracted articles for fee-based/as-is use (e.g., regular column)




trend analysis

in-house analysis of major trends (also included in hot topics section)



Delivery Vehicles

weekly news advisories

Direct feed to editors with food and agriculture news




Breaking news alerts

Backgrounders and resources sent directly to press on nationwide media alerts (e.g., BSE, Mad Cow)



e-mail newsletter

periodic direct mail updates with intro paragraphs on new hot topics, news releases, events, articles



Press events

Press calls or meetings on specific hot issues




* Key to Potential Partner Abbreviations

AS Ascribe

EMS Environmental Media Services

ENN Environmental News Network

ENS Environmental News Service

EP Eco-Portal

FR FoodRoutes

GMT Green Media Toolshed

GW Greenwire

IATP Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

IW I-Wire

OR Organic Research

SEJ Society of Environmental Journalists

TP Tidepool

KF Kellogg Foundation

PR P.R. Newswire

NPX Non-Profit Express



Appendix V — Website Sitemap

Click here for a site map (in Adobe PDF)



Appendix VI — Journalists Already Accessing SNC resources:

Associated Press

Boston Globe

CBS Evening News

CBS Market Watch

Country Living

Dateline NBC

Diablo Magazine

Edmonton Journal

Food & Wine

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Freelance writers (multiple)

Great Life Magazine

In Business


Las Vegas Sun

Los Angeles Times

National Public Radio


New York Times

Oakland Tribune


San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Magazine

San Jose Mercury News


USA Today

Vegetarian Times



Appendix VII — Two-Year Budget




Line items

One-time set-up costs

Phase I

1st 6 months

(per month)

Phase II

2nd 6 mos.

(per month)

Phase III

2nd year

(per month)

Establing legal, tax status

Attorney, filing fees, accountant for tax return








rent, furniture, computers, utilities, supplies, phone, fax, printer, copier






Editor-in-Chief (FT)





Research Director (FT)





Marketing and Sales (PT)





Administration (PT)






Domain, design, host






Expert databases, Newswire services, developing media list, mailings, etc





News sources

Clipping service, memberships, data / stats / reports






Branding, marketing materials, media events, etc





Total (one-time and per month)





1st Year (including one-time costs)


(x 12)

2nd Year