✎STUDY HALL DIGEST 4/20/2020✎

TELL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT US // SUBSCRIBE IF YOU’RE NOT ALREADY // UPGRADE TO OUR NETWORK LEVEL FOR EDITORS DATABASES, CHAT ROOMS AND MORE!

By Study Hall staff writer Allegra Hobbs (@allegraehobbs)

HOW ARE NONPROFIT NEWSROOMS FARING IN A PANDEMIC?

Since advertisers have slashed their marketing budgets due to the COVID-19 crisis, publications that depend on advertising revenue have been suffering tremendously, laying off or furloughing staff en masse and instituting pay cuts. But what about publications that get their money from donors? This crisis might be showcasing the merits of the nonprofit model for media companies, which was becoming increasingly popular even before the pandemic.

Kate Cox, editor-in-chief of The Counter, a nonprofit newsroom focused on the food supply chain and how we eat, tells Study Hall she managed to secure emergency funding from donors for the ramped-up reporting her publication is churning out to cover the food angles of the pandemic. The Counter’s revenue model is completely donation-based — it is funded by a major donor who helped launch the newsroom with seed funding, a six-member board who have actively raised money for the organization, reader donations, and foundational support from mostly small to mid-sized foundations.

On March 26, three weeks into a period of heightened pandemic coverage, Cox wrote a letter to The Counter’s donors explaining the urgency of the moment, the need for increased reporting, and the necessity of additional funds for special projects her newsroom hoped to undertake. She anticipated running out of funds in the freelance budget to tackle those projects without additional help. “Our major donors were pretty responsive to that,” she said. “And [emergency funding is] unusual — that’s not something we’ve ever done before.” With those donations, The Counter has been able to increase freelance spending at a time when other outlets are slashing it. Before the pandemic, Cox said, the site’s content was roughly 30% freelance and 70% staff; now, it’s more like 50/50.

With the additional emergency funds covering immediate pandemic-related costs, Cox said The Counter should be set for the next two years. That wasn’t necessarily guaranteed, she explained. One potential shortcoming of a nonprofit model is that philanthropic organizations typically determine how their funds will be allocated well in advance and can be slow to pivot even in non-crisis times. Still, it seems preferable to the unpredictable fluctuations of print and digital advertising. In this case, donors understood the urgency and came through.

The success wasn’t just luck, though — The Counter had laid the foundation over years so that it was prepared to weather an unforeseen crisis. “I think we’re in a position where we spent the last couple of years building out the operational infrastructure of this organization,” said Cox. “We built the board out, we spent all of last year aggressively trying to raise funds from foundations, so it just happened that we’re in a somewhat stable place right now when a lot of the for-profit media is struggling. This is one thing that nonprofit news is uniquely suited to: We’re usually pretty small, we’re pretty nimble, and we can make pivots.”

What’s become devastatingly obvious over the last few weeks is that many for-profit media organizations did not have a crisis-ready foundation, and so were decimated by the crisis. Will this fallout lead to the launch of more nonprofit newsrooms, and a turn away from advertising-based revenue models? 

“I don’t see a binary future where it’s either-or,” said Cox. “I’d like to see a healthy media economy that includes both for-profit and nonprofit models, but I can say in the five years we’ve been running, more and more nonprofit newsrooms have cropped up, and the work that they’re doing is picked up all the time by mainstream media. We know we’re able to do the same level of work, in some cases more focused and more intensive, because we can develop expertise in beats in ways that general news outlets aren’t always able to do.”

**********

Vox Media (which now owns New York Magazine) furloughed 9% of its staff beginning May 1, to last through the month of July. Vox CEO Jim Bankoff cited the collapse of advertising and the cancellation of some events that were a source of revenue for the company. Pay cuts and reduced hours were also put into place for some employees. (Vox recently launched a subscription drive in an attempt to offset the loss in ad revenue).

But was there another way? According to the Vox Union and New York Magazine Union, employees offered to take deeper pay cuts in order to preserve their colleagues’ jobs, but management declined. Additionally, Bankoff opted to take a 50% pay cut instead of foregoing a salary altogether (by contrast, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti gave up his salary as a cost-cutting measure). 

It almost seems as though the pandemic has served as an excuse for Bankoff to make those post-merger cuts we feared would eventually come. Just last week, New York Magazine announced the integration of Kara Swisher’s Pivot Podcast — now it has furloughed Brian Feldman, the magazine’s last remaining tech writer. It seems the newly integrated Vox Media has deemed some employees superfluous as it combines with New York Magazine. The company also furloughed Adam Platt, New York Magazine’s restaurant critic. Vox Media also owns Eater and likely feels such coverage can be streamlined. Curbed was also hit especially hard, indicating that Vox has made the decision not to prioritize local, city-specific coverage.

Other furloughs across Vox Media sites include:

— Approximately half the staff of Curbed, according to writer Diana Budds. City sites were hit especially hard. Those furloughs include Curbed New York editor Amy Plitt, Curbed LA senior reporter Patrick Sisson, Curbed LA full-time writers Bianca Barragan and Elijah Chiland, and Curbed Detroit editor Aaron Mondry.

— At The Verge, tech editor Natt Garun

— At SB Nation, senior writer Paul Flannery and writer Morgan Moriarty.

**********

Hey! Study Hall has a new syndication partnership with the daily media newsletter Deez Links, by writer Delia Cai. Each week we’ll highlight one of Delia’s posts.

FROM DEEZ LINKS: I love this baker story so much

The New Yorker timed the hell out of this very beautiful story, Baking Bread in Lyon, last week when it seemed like everyone on lockdown was taking their feelings out on the global yeast supply, but it’s 1000% worth a read even without the transportive pastoral oh-to-be-strolling-by-the-River-Saône vibes throughout the piece.

The plot revolves around writer Bill Buford’s apprenticeship and friendship with a French baker named Bob, and what follows is such a tenderly told story about craft, pride, ~terroir,~ and the difference between hospitality as sanctioned by Michelin stars vs. the kind you get when you know exactly where your food comes from and who’s made it. It’s the most unsnobby story about French gastronomy you’ll ever read, and heaven help ya if it doesn’t make you wanna just rip into a fresh loaf or two afterward.

**********

LONGREAD OF THE WEEK This is not a longread published this week, but it is a piece I reread often, including this week. In The Paris Review Daily, Anthony Madrid examines the delightful, singular flavor of pop lyrics written by Swedish hit machines like ABBA. Riffing on the Ace of Base line “all that she wants is another baby,” Madrid writes: “The intended meaning was ‘All that she wants is another lover’ (so watch out, you sensitive boy who might foolishly fall for her). But of course, no native speaker of English understood it that way...Yes: [baby] usually means lover, but not when you say, “All that she wants is another baby.” It doesn’t work like that. If you say, “All that she wants is another baby,” the meaning is she wants to get pregnant.’” — Erin Schwartz 

**********

EVERYTHING ELSE

Not all nonprofit media is faring well. NPR is apparently suffering a sponsorship cut and, paired with increased costs, will have to institute some cost-saving measures in order to avoid job losses. 

— There was a story in Variety about The Ringer CEO Bill Simmons buying a $16 million mansion, but not anymore! Variety blamed the story’s removal on security concerns, but hard to imagine any such concerns wouldn’t have been known before publication. 

— 35 Fortune employees, including some in the company’s union,have been laid off. The union pledges it will contest the layoffs. 

Slate has instituted pay cuts in order to cut costs: according to writer Christina Cauterucci, 5-10% for those making less than $100,000 and 10-20% for those making upwards of that figure.

— The LA Times Union has pledged to fight the unpaid furloughs of non-union employees who work on the business side of the company. The union plans to meet with management to discuss alternatives today, and we’ll have updates if there are new developments.

— The former Splinter staff has launched a blog via Substack called the Discourse Blog! Along with the temporary return of Unnamed Temporary Sports Blog, the creation of former Deadspin writers, it seems now’s the time to say to hell with it and launch our own media companies. What do we have to lose?

By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 403 exclusive posts
1
Image
402
Writings
By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 403 exclusive posts
1
Image
402
Writings