A Different Way of Doing Journalism

As an independent nonprofit, we’re answerable to our readers and no one else.

Christopher Hass March 21, 2018

(Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Clean­ing out an office file cab­i­net a while back, I came across a slim, hard­back accountant’s ledger, dat­ed 1976. It had been used to track some of the very first dona­tions to In These Times, when the mag­a­zine (then a news­pa­per) was get­ting off the ground. There was a mix of famil­iar and unfa­mil­iar names, many of whom were friends or fam­i­ly mem­bers of the magazine’s founder, Jim­my Wein­stein. The final name on the first page is Noam Chom­sky, who gave $50 in March and then anoth­er $100 in June.

Publications big and small are looking to readers as a source of revenue, almost as a last resort. That's been our model all along.

The orig­i­nal ledger cut off after 121 names. Last year, more than 7,400 indi­vid­u­als donat­ed to help keep us in print.

The sup­port of these donors has helped In These Times weath­er some rough waters recent­ly, both for the media and our coun­try. The cri­sis in jour­nal­ism began long before Don­ald Trump’s attacks or the rise of fake news.” Even as Jim­my and his friends were launch­ing In These Times as an inde­pen­dent alter­na­tive to cor­po­rate media, that same media was aggres­sive­ly con­sol­i­dat­ing. That inevitably meant less report­ing and more focus on the bot­tom line. Between 2007 and 2015, for exam­ple, the num­ber of full-time jour­nal­ists work­ing at dai­ly news­pa­pers fell by almost 40 per­cent. More than 100 local news­pa­pers closed in 2009 alone.

Today, most pub­li­ca­tions are built on one of two mod­els: Rely on adver­tis­ers or rely on bil­lion­aires. Dozens of pub­li­ca­tions have banked big on online adver­tis­ing, and, lat­er, online video adver­tis­ing. But in 2017, thanks to a new kind of cor­po­rate con­sol­i­da­tion, more than 80 per­cent of all new online ad rev­enue went to just two com­pa­nies — Face­book and Google.

And it should come as no sur­prise that bil­lion­aires who dab­ble in media own­er­ship often don’t treat their work­ers well. Every day seems to bring news of cut­backs and lay­offs, in some cas­es seem­ing­ly out of spite — as when bil­lion­aire Joe Rick­etts shut down the pop­u­lar hyper-local web­sites DNAin­fo and Gothamist one week after employ­ees vot­ed to unionize.

Now, pub­li­ca­tions big and small are look­ing to read­ers as a source of rev­enue, almost as a last resort. Derek Thomp­son, writ­ing in The Atlantic, put it this way:

Dig­i­tal media has piv­ot­ed to pro­gram­mat­ic adver­tis­ing, piv­ot­ed to native adver­tis­ing, piv­ot­ed to ven­ture cap­i­tal, piv­ot­ed to Face­book, piv­ot­ed to dis­trib­uted and piv­ot­ed to video. Here is a bet­ter exper­i­ment: Piv­ot to readers.

That’s been In These Times’ mod­el all along. I’ve got the ledger to prove it. In 2017, adver­tis­ing made up less than 2 per­cent of our total rev­enue. We’ve nev­er had a bil­lion­aire bankrolling us and like­ly nev­er will. As a non­prof­it, we’re answer­able to our read­ers and no one else. And we’re proud to be a union shop.

In 2017 a record num­ber of donors stepped up to sup­port us, and we’re grate­ful for that. But to secure a future for the kind of jour­nal­ism nec­es­sary in these pre­car­i­ous times, we need a new approach. For us, that means ask­ing read­ers to think of them­selves not just as sub­scribers, but as part­ners in pub­lish­ing In These Times.

That’s why we’re try­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. We’re ask­ing read­ers to invest in the kind of jour­nal­ism they want to read — both in print and online — not just today but for the long-haul.

What does this mean? For read­ers, it means com­mit­ting to make a small dona­tion of just $5 or more each month — about the cost of two cups of cof­fee. For our jour­nal­ism, how­ev­er, it could be a game-chang­er. Hav­ing a base of Sus­tain­ers that we can count on, month to month, will give us the sta­bil­i­ty to invest in deep­er report­ing and allow us to cov­er sto­ries that would oth­er­wise go unreported.

It will also mean less scram­bling to raise funds and fill bud­get short­falls — which means less fundrais­ing appeals for you. Trust us, we would rather spend more time pro­duc­ing sto­ries you want to read and less time ask­ing for money. 

And to make this as good a deal as pos­si­ble for you, for a lim­it­ed time we’re offer­ing two big rewards to any­one who becomes an In These Times Sus­tain­er by March 31: A free, ongo­ing sub­scrip­tion to the print mag­a­zine for as long as you’re an active Sus­tain­er, as well as a free (union made) In These Times tote bag.

In addi­tion, as a Sus­tain­er you’ll receive exclu­sive access to updates, sneak-peaks, behind-the-scenes con­tent and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help shape our cov­er­age by shar­ing your opin­ions and insights with In These Times edi­tors.

Despite all the chal­lenges fac­ing inde­pen­dent media today, we’re more opti­mistic than we’ve been in years. Because every day, read­ers are step­ping up and show­ing that qual­i­ty jour­nal­ism mat­ters to them — and that they’re will­ing to pay to sup­port it. If you want to be part of a new and bet­ter media land­scape, sign up to become an In These Times Sus­tain­er today.

Christo­pher Hass is the exec­u­tive pub­lish­er of In These Times. Before join­ing ITT, he spent eight years work­ing on polit­i­cal and advo­ca­cy cam­paigns, includ­ing both the 2008 and 2012 Barack Oba­ma pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns. He is also the for­mer edi­tor and pub­lish­er of P8NT Mag­a­zine.

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