I woke up to news this morning that we're losing a stalwart of independent, progressive journalism: After nearly 70 years, the great Texas Observer will cease publication and lay off all staff.
That hits incredibly close to home for me. The Texas Observer was part of the family of scrappy, independent magazines rooted in values of justice and democracy that Mother Jones was born into as well. Molly Ivins, perhaps its best-known writer, was a columnist for Mother Jones for a number of years, and I had the privilege of editing her at one point. Upon her passing, I wrote a little tribute to what she meant to me as a young journalist, and I felt starstruck all over again when I reread it this morning:
I drank up what it was like to see a woman be sharply political and yet uproariously funny, unapologetic and uncompromising, completely confident with the good old boys and completely capable of beating them at their own game, and all this without even seeming to try very hard at all. There were not many women writing like that in the 80s [or 90s], which is why I dreamed of being Molly Ivins when I grew up; there still aren’t many like her today, and magazines like Mother Jones are run and written overwhelmingly by men. Why? I don’t know exactly: Because most women are not trained, as many men have been, to presume that the world is dying to hear what we have to say? Because having an outsized personality and convictions to match makes you lonely, as a woman more so than a man? Because so many of us, anxious to get along, learn to lace our opinions, even inadvertently, with qualifiers and fudges, with "I think”s and “I could be wrong, but”s?
Molly embodied the Texas Observer and the spirit of journalism without corporate overlords or deep-pocketed owners. But she knew, as everyone in this line of work has always known, that with that independence comes a lot of risk. I didn’t know that the Observer was about to go under when Brian and I kicked off our big fundraising campaign last week with "It's Not a Crisis. This Is the New Normal," but in a sense, it’s what we were writing about: How hard it is keeping quality journalism afloat and why hitting our fundraising goals is so important.
So, as Molly might have said, no beating around the shrub.
As of this evening, we're five-plus days into our three-week push to raise $300,000 and we only have about $40,000 in hand. We really need that pace to pick if we're going to have any chance of finishing our fiscal year square in the coming months. And we have zero room for error, having already cut all the expenses that we could from our budget to account for the significant headwind journalism faces.
It looks like you used to support Mother Jones years ago but haven't pitched in again for several years now. We need you to consider rejoining the group of readers who decide to donate if you can right now. $5 or $50, it all matters and makes a difference when added up with your fellow readers.
For 47 years, our nonprofit model of being funded primarily by readers who aren’t forced to pay, but choose to pitch in, has allowed us to weather storms big and small. But those journalism storms are intensifying as the underlying conditions change. And that means we need more donations to come in from our online community of readers, especially from those of you who have decided to pitch in before.
Because in the end, as the Observer’s story demonstrates, it takes a wide base of support to keep a newsroom alive at a time when any one source of revenue, especially any one major donor or foundation, can and will go poof at any given time.
What sets Mother Jones apart from virtually every other national newsroom in America is that we are supported by a lot of people, not mostly by people who have a lot. Like every nonprofit, we need and are grateful for grants from foundations and major donors. But what sustains our work, what makes us confident that Mother Jones will carry on, are people who give what they can when we have to come knocking like we are right now. People like you.
Despite how nerve-wracking these fundraising campaigns can be, hoping and/or praying that enough donations will come in, I'm beyond grateful—especially on days like today—that Mother Jones' biggest funding source is our community of readers: 74 percent of our budget comes from donations big and small this year. Nothing else could keep us going. There is no backup, no secret benefactor.
Because you know what is more powerful than checks with a lot a zeroes?
A large and steady group of people pitching in what they can when they can because they believe in independent journalism's ability to help bring about change.
That kind of support doesn’t go poof.
That kind of support is from the people who will be here next year and the year after that, who will work for change one day at a time.
Tens of thousands of people doing their part to keep fearless investigative reporting alive is a powerful thing, and like every movement, it gets more powerful as it grows.
And we need it to grow: It’s the only way we’ll be able to come up with that $300,000 in donations we need in the next few weeks. It's the only way we can keep on doing the reporting you get from us, at our current level, amid so many uncertainties. It’s also a tall order—and more than we hoped we’d need to bank on right now—but we can 100 percent get there if more readers than normal decide to pitch in again, starting today. I hope you will on this sad day for fearless, nonprofit reporting.
You can learn more in our full post if you'd like, and we very much hope we can count on your ongoing support with a donation today. We've already cut expenses, and like this morning's news made crystal clear, hitting our online goal is critical right now.
Thanks for reading, and for everything you to do make Mother Jones what it is.