Fundraising is hard.
Keeping a newsroom afloat is even harder.
And one of the challenges of being transparent with you about this all is communicating the urgency of our fundraising campaigns without making it sound like we're about to fall off a cliff, but also making clear that your support is truly needed to stay back from that cliff edge.
We've been beating that drum for the last week, trying to thread the needle the best we can, as succinctly as we can, so we can raise the $390,000 we need in online donations to finish our fiscal year, on June 30, as close to break-even as we possibly can:
We need more help than normal, quicker than normal, to get there.
We've already cut $1 million from our budget and can't afford to come up short right now.
There is nothing else (other than support from readers) that can keep us going strong. There is no backup. No largesse. No secret benefactor.
The state of journalism? Its "tragic," but "It's Not a Crisis. This Is the New Normal."
Messaging like that sounds dire. And it undeniably feels dire to the two of us: Monika, who's responsible for the entire $17 million budget, and Brian, who's responsible for the $1.4 million online fundraising portion, and the $295,000 or so in donations we still need to come in over the next 16 days (but who's counting?).
In fact, we've heard from several folks, both near to and further from MoJo, asking how it's really going—genuinely worried about our budget realities and future as they receive these emails or visit our site.
That’s actually pretty amazing. People truly care about Mother Jones, and if you noticed, that $390,000 number has gone down to $295,000 after the first week of this big fundraising push—so our messaging is really landing, people are donating, and that's awesome. Still though, we 100 percent need to keep on seeing stronger than normal response (that's fundraising talk for donations donations donations) from these emails, from you reading this right now, if we're going to get all the way there in the next two weeks and two days.
But are we overdoing it?
Today, in the spirt of brutal honesty, we wanted to provide a concrete example of the hard decisions we've had to make to back up that "we've already cut $1 million from our budget and can't afford to come up short right now" line.
Earlier this year, our senior producer, Mark Helenowski, moved on to the next stage of his career. Mark came to Mother Jones as part of our filmmakers in residence experiment back in 2017. We wanted him to help our reporters translate their amazing investigations to another format so we could reach even more people: Not everyone wants to read an in-depth story, but a lot of people will watch a powerful video. In fact, it’s especially critical to be multimedia and multi-platformed (on TikTok, Instagram, etc.) to reach the young, diverse audience that is the future of this country and of Mother Jones.
His work blew us away and he helped Mother Jones level-up in immeasurable ways.
Alongside reporter Julia Lurie, Mark spent time with cops, drug users, and dealers in suburban Baltimore to try to understand the impact of the opioid epidemic. He filmed the spontaneous airport protests to greet separated migrant children, and documented how some families were able to reunite. He followed the “Road to Change” bus tour that brought Parkland school shooting and other gun violence survivors to dozens of congressional districts ahead of the 2018 midterms. He showed exactly how YouTube was spreading hoaxes.
One of my absolute favorites was his animation showing how wealthy Mike Bloomberg actually is (you HAVE to watch it to appreciate it). He came back to the billionaire genre to show just how much richer the superrich got during the pandemic. He teamed up with reporter Hannah Levintova to investigate the stock trading app Robinhood’s mind games.
And then, in perhaps his most ambitious project of all, he created a 17-minute documentary as part of reporter Samantha Michaels’ investigation of how “failure to protect” laws put domestic abuse survivors in prison for much longer sentences than their abusers.
That project, which took a year to report and has sparked responses from legislators and law enforcement officials all around the country, has been honored with at least half a dozen journalism awards, including the National Magazine Award for Best Video (beating out the likes of National Geographic and the New York Times.)
You can see the challenge: Great video journalism that reaches wide, and new, audiences (and wins awards!) is not cheap. And dedicating a year of reporting to a story instead of churning out cheap crap, quality over quantity, is even more expensive.
So, about those hard choices: Since Mark decided to take a break from journalism to focus on his other filmmaking passions, we haven’t been able to fill his important and impactful position. We didn’t want to bring someone new on staff unless we were really sure we could keep the position going. And the truth is, right now we can’t be sure of that. That’s not a complaint; it’s just the reality.
It doesn’t mean we’ve given up on video, quite the contrary; producer Sam Van Pykeren, an alum of our fellowship program, has been doing amazing work and coaching our reporters to do the same. Creator in residence Garrison Hayes, a pastor-turned-journalist, has cranked out a whole series of fantastic pieces on topics from Clarence Thomas’ organizing belief to the meaning of reparations to the Tennessee legislature’s unprecedented expulsion of two Black lawmakers, plus responding to the racist comments he gets in response.
Our team’s scrappiness, honestly, is astonishing. We make do, and we continue to punch above our weight and budget in ways that boggle the mind every day. No matter the hardships journalism face, Mother Jones will find a way to scrape by in some form.
But “in some form” is pretty grim, especially when the need to keep going as hard as we can, and do more, is so great. We can and want to step up. And our only limiting factor is how much money we’re able to realistically bring in year-over-year such that, by each June 30, the amount of money we've spent that year is damn near equal to the amount of money we're able raise that year.
That’s what’s behind that $295,000 in online donations that we still need to raise over these next two weeks (and two days) to have a chance at breaking even.
So we'll finish where we started: We can't afford to come up short, we need more help than normal, quicker than normal, and there is nothing other than support from readers that could keep us going strong.
If you can right now, please support the journalism you get from Mother Jones with a donation today—and please do it before you move on to whatever you're about to do next and think, "I'll get to it eventually."
We can't afford to leave it to chance and rely on a huge surge at the deadline that risks coming up well short. We have to keep the momentum going. And whether you can pitch in $5 or $500, it all matters and makes Mother Jones possible when combined with your fellow readers.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for expecting us to give you the full picture when it comes to our fundraising just like you expect from our journalism.