You told us to give it to you straight, so let’s start there.
It is unfathomably hard keeping a newsroom afloat right now, and December is the most important month of the year for our fundraising. We need $350,000 in online donations to keep the journalism you get from Mother Jones charging hard in the new year. And with fewer people paying as much attention to news as you are, we need more help than normal getting there. Please consider supporting our work with a much-needed year-end donation if you can right now.
You also told us fundraising is annoying—with the gimmicks, overwrought tone, manipulative language, and sheer volume of urgent URGENT URGENT!!! content we’re all bombarded with. I don’t disagree. And I just now realized, unfortunately, that’s also a good way to describe how following the news can feel these days: annoying, with the gimmicks, manipulation, and volume.
You can see my predicament.
My job is to gin up a big haul of donations in just over three weeks, but I don’t want to add to the overwhelming noise. I need to communicate the legitimate urgency of both our journalism and our finances, but I don’t want to go overboard with sky-is-falling rhetoric. I also need to keep it snappy, but cover enough so something might resonate with most all of you—whether you’re brand new to Mother Jones or have been with us since the beginning, in 1976.
Luckily, I have the facts on my side. I also have you, people who have never been afraid of a bit more substance than most of what’s out there. Over the last year, you’ve shown us that level-headedly explaining the crisis in journalism, and how Mother Jones tries to navigate through it, can be effective in making the case for the donations we urgently and always need. I need it to be really effective now.
So I’m going to try making this as un-annoying as possible.
It took me a few days, and several errant paths, before I landed on what that means. But by now, the challenges confronting journalism and US democracy are well known. We’ve covered that ground. And at its core, fundraising like this should try to convey three things: Why us, why now, and why it matters. Maybe the best approach right now, given everything, is trusting that less is more?
Why us: Why support Mother Jones?
The amazing person who taught me, and so many others, most everything we know about online fundraising used to say it this way: What’s your superpower? What’s the one thing you do that others don’t?
Our answer is simple: Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere.
Always have. We were founded as a nonprofit magazine in 1976 to do things differently. It was the aftermath of Watergate, and there were lots of important stories that the big outlets were not going after. But the small group of journalists who got together to try to fix this knew that commercial models would never support the kind of fierce journalism that was needed.
Consider: Advertising was the main source of revenue for magazines back then, and car manufacturers and tobacco companies were among the biggest spenders. One of Mother Jones’ first investigations was about how automakers calculated that it was cheaper to pay settlements for deaths and injuries than to fix fatal design flaws in cars like the now-infamous Ford Pinto. Another was about how tobacco companies were trying to snuff out anti-smoking efforts.
The truth, then and now, is that corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. Our mission, then and now, is to do investigative journalism that can help advance democracy and justice—that puts people’s interests over corporate interests.
Not a lot of newsrooms prioritize independent, in-depth reporting. We do.
So far this year we’ve published some 37 “big features,” pieces where Mother Jones reporters were allowed, were actually encouraged, to sink time and effort into investigating something. Not because their story would generate the most clicks and eyeballs and advertising pennies, but because it was a story that needed to be told. Another example? See Samantha Michaels’ yearlong, groundbreaking reporting into “failure to protect” laws: It sparked responses from legislators and law enforcement officials all around the country, and has been honored with at least half a dozen journalism awards, including the National Magazine Award for Best Video for its accompanying 17-minute documentary.
Not a lot of newsrooms get ahead of big underreported topics, and stick with them. We have—whether it’s attacks on voting rights and democracy, the rise of extremism and disinformation, or the influence of dark money groups (plus so much more, but for now I have to remember less is more!).
Not a lot of newsrooms will send a reporter to work as a private prison guard because that’s the only way to find out what truly happens inside the secretive facilities. We did.
Not a lot of newsrooms will stand up to bullies to defend the truth when capitulating would have been so much easier. We did.
Not a lot of newsrooms do the type of journalism Mother Jones does, and that’s the “why us” as I make the case for your much-needed year-end donation right now. Please help if you can: $5 or $50, it all matters when combined with your fellow readers.
Advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting that exists to shake things up viable. The independence that comes with being funded primarily by a community of readers means everything to our unique way of doing journalism.
Why now: Why support Mother Jones this month?
These fundraising targets are legitimately urgent for us to hit. Mother Jones has always operated on razor-thin margins. When we say “we can’t afford to come up short” that’s the honest-to-goodness truth, not just fundraising boilerplate—and we came up a bit short in our fall fundraising, so we have a hole to dig out of.
The facts: Donations big and small from a broad base of readers make up about 75 percent of our annual budget. There is no backup, no secret benefactor, no alternative sources—and no cuts to make that aren’t painful. Given the terrible state of the news business, we can’t afford to miss the mark this month and fall further behind than can be managed and made up for.
That happened post-December last year, and we had to cut $1 million in expenses to have any chance of breaking even—and despite a huge rally from you all we still came up a bit short. That has real consequences, and readers told us this concrete example of the hard decisions we have to make really helped them understand things.
As did these facts: For a decade-plus, advertising reliably made up between 11 and 15 percent of our budget. Last year it was 6. At one point, Facebook showed our reporting to users as many as 83 million times in one year. Last year, just under 5 million. (Our audience has been growing elsewhere, reaching more and more people on Instagram for example—but where revenue on platforms like this used to be pennies an article, now they’ve made it virtually impossible to generate any money at all.) Paper and postage for our magazine and mailings have gone up 30 percent over the last few years. Insurance and lawyers to defend against attacks on the truth and powerful interests who take issue with what we investigate used to be $85,000 per year. Now it’s $250,000. Want more? You can go deeper in “It’s Not a Crisis. This is the New Normal” or “No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS,” our year-end post from last year.
Beyond our harsh budget realities, why now? Because we’re 11 months out from an election in which the frontrunner for his party’s nomination faces 91 felony charges, including for attempting to overthrow the government, which we all watched play out live on television, and yet that candidate might prevail again thanks in part to a timid and weakened media. Journalism is being decimated right when we need it like never before, but Mother Jones can keep charging hard so long as we can cobble together the money—the donations—it takes to scrape by month after month, year after year.
Bottom line: When we harp on about hitting $350,000 this month, it’s not meaningless rhetoric—it’s the reality we face and urgency I feel in my bones. And December is particularly nerve-wracking: Upward of 15 percent of the $1.4 million online fundraising budget usually comes in during the final week of the year. It’s always a nail-biter, and we can’t afford to leave it to chance and risk coming up short when it’s too late to do anything about it: So I hope many of you will donate right now, whenever you’re reading this and before you move on to whatever you’re about to do next. I hate to say it, but a good way to make fundraising less annoying? If everyone who’s going to end up giving later this month just did so now, we could stop asking.
Why it matters: What material difference does any of this make?
There are probably as many answers to why our reporting matters as there are people reading this post—and hopefully the high stakes and importance of our journalism, and thus hitting our $350,000 goal, has been coming through loud and clear.
But I want to end this with a beautiful note from a reader we received a few months ago: “Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”
That’s from a civil rights lawyer who wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published in October, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated. So awesome. As is the fact that Julia promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.
Just like another recent story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact that your support makes possible.
This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. It made an immediate and huge splash. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?
“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.
Wow. That’s why all of this matters.
None of this works without you, people who expect better from journalism and can pitch in from time to time, when you’re able to, so we can keep doing it—and keep it free for everyone, because access to quality information shouldn’t only be for those who can afford it when so much BS is free.
It all comes down to trust, and we really love that. You trust that we’ll put your gift to use doing the type of hard-hitting journalism you expect from us, and we trust that enough donations will come in so we can keep doing it. Been that way for almost 48 years now. And we’ve been told this is a terrible way to do things, but that’s crap.
No doubt, it’s not for everyone. It’s hard as hell coming up with the money it takes to keep our heads above water when our funding comes from tens of thousands of you instead of corporate overlords, or a handful of deep-pocketed donors who can write fat checks. And it’s beyond stressful right now, trusting that we’ll see the December haul of $350,000 in donations we need to stay on track. But there’s no way we’d rather have it.
Because you know what’s more powerful and more durable than a few millionaires or billionaires and their whims? A large and steady group of people who care immensely about journalism. A community. And a cause.
That kind of support, that belief in journalism that exists to bring about change, doesn’t go poof all at once. And especially right now, a strong and steady base of tens of thousands of donors like you is vital to help us shore up what we can given the forces that are decimating journalism.
If you can right now, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a year-end donation. We really need it this month (and always). Please also let me know what you think of this post, so I can raise the money I need to raise and hopefully be as un-annoying as I possibly can to get the job done. Thank you.