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Beyond Kickstarter: How Do Journalism Startups Stay Up?

Well, the answer may be that they don’t, necessarily. By now, most are familiar with crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo –platforms for anyone looking to fund a new project or venture that might be too pricey to start alone. People who want to see a project succeed can become backers, and pledge money towards the project’s goal. If the project meets the goal, the project gets funded. The model can work quite well. It has proven successful for many new journalism ventures such as Matter and Narratively, both of which we’ve profiled in the past. According to its website, 2,851 publishing projects have been funded through Kickstarter.

However, does this model prove to be useful in the long run? Ann Friedman, former executive editor of GOOD magazine, isn’t so sure. When Friedman and a group of her co-workers were all simultaneously laid-off from GOOD, they decided to publish Tomorrow, a one-off magazine issue focused on reporting and essays. Using Kickstarter, the magazine met its goal within hours, and eventually surpassed the goal by triple. However, Friedman said she and her colleagues never intended to try to fund a magazine beyond the one issue.

“The economics are tough—really tough,” she said. “And Kickstarter is not a platform that makes sense for ongoing projects. It’s like the name says, a kickstart. Mostly, Tomorrow will live on as a great collaboration we did one time, as well as possibly a proof-of-concept for a future project. It was a real learning experience.”

For Newtown, Conn., arts and literary magazine, The Newtowner, a Kickstarter campaign was developed so the magazine could continue publishing at the same level of quality. Meeting the initial Kickstarter goal proved to be challenging when it coincided with two tragic events in the community—Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook shootings. Yet the magazine was able to exceed its goal of $7,000 and launched its first quarterly issue in 2013.

The Newtowner continues to rely on crowdfunding as revenue. Originally, only certain backers would have a say in the publication’s content. Since the Sandy Hook shootings, The Newtowner decided to do a special tribute issue dedicated to Newtown and the victims and survivors, and opened its doors to ideas from all backers and the general public. This in turn caused more backers who wanted to support the publication, said Georgia Monaghan, editor of The Newtowner.

“We have had friends of the Newtowner contact us about wanting to contribute after the campaign ended,” said Monaghan. “Some were so affected by the incident in Sandy Hook they forgot the deadline. Others have been moved to help us due to the incident.”

Monaghan said a smaller amount of revenue is generated by advertising, but they are looking into other sources of fundraising as well. While The Newtowner is a special case—as donations may have been effected by two national emergencies—Monaghan said they have considered relying on crowdfunding in place of advertising. She said they are looking into trying Indiegogo for their next campaign.

“We have had difficulty recruiting advertising sales associates,” Monaghan said. “Whereas appealing to our community of readers has been more successful, as well as allowing us to achieve our grass roots mission and goals more faithfully.”

As for Friedman, she isn’t so sure crowdfunding is a way to sustain publishing in the long run.

“I think someone could devise an app or platform that makes crowdfunding more feasible,” She said. “But Kickstarter? No, not the future of journalism. Crowdfunding is basically a trendy new name for ‘subscriptions’—support from an audience that pays up front for your work. I don’t think it’s all that radical or revolutionary.”

Yet getting the initial boost from crowdfunding may be all some publications need. Matter met its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 in March 2012, and nearly tripled that number. Since then, the publication generates revenue from charging for monthly memberships.

Monaghan sees the benefit of crowdsourcing for her publication, but said it’s not the case for print across the board.

“Publishing is in such a state of flux right now it is hard to say what the answer will be,” she said. “Crowdsourcing has certainly helped us.”

Making the Pitch 

Tomorrow was created for only one issue, so Friedman said they are not likely to reply to pitches or emails from public relations professionals. Monaghan said she prefers to be contacted via email.

“We welcome all PR opportunities,” she said. “Especially for our special tribute issue of The Newtowner magazine, which will serve as a tribute to those who lost their lives, as well as a celebration of all that is good and great about Newtown.”

She said they will be publishing a wide variety of Newtown voices, including parents of those who lost their lives, teachers in the Newtown school system, first responders and more.

Contact Information

The Newtowner
PO Box 456
Newtown, CT 06470
203-304-1239

Georgia Monaghan, editor

About Gina Joseph

Gina Joseph is a features writer for Cision Blog, and is also the digital engagement manager for Cision’s marketing department. She’s a book nerd, Detroit sports enthusiast, lover of cats, lifelong Phil Collins fan, and budding snowboarder. Find her on Twitter @gmg912.

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