Directions: Insights from Media Executives in Traffic’s Network

Naomi Starkman seeks a viable business model to cover food ethics.

Tell me about Civil Eats?

Civil Eats is a daily news and commentary site that provides critical thought about the American food system: We tell the story behind your food. We started as a labor of love; for the first four years, none of our staff was paid. Then, in 2013, we raised $100,000 through Kickstarter. The next year we were named the James Beard Foundation’s “Publication of the Year.” And then I was named a Knight Fellow last year.

What did you study during the fellowship?

I tried to answer the big questions everybody in media is trying to answer: How do you get people to pay for content, and how do small, independent players stay viable? We want cheap food and we want cheap media. And it turns out we’re getting junk food and junk journalism. And as an independent site that has never taken advertising, I’ve been constantly innovating ways to survive.

How are you getting by?

It’s a mixed bag of revenue. We instituted a subscription program last year that’s been remarkably successful. And we’ve partnered for years with big media outlets, including Time and The Atlantic. We just this year signed a paid syndication deal with Food and Wine. We’re also a nonprofit, so we receive donations and some foundation grants.

What’s on your radar?

We’re continuing to partner with more mainstream media to bring our content to a broader audience, and I’m working on creating a wire service, like the AP, but for food and environmental health issues. I’m also trying to develop a tool that would help our audience shop ethically.

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