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August 22, 2016 | Authored by: Vindicia Team

Mother Jones shows the true cost of quality journalism

Although the internet continues to do wonders for spreading the reach of news content, it has made it more difficult for publications to maintain funding and support quality journalism. Consider New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson's views on the matter. He gave a speech during the IAB Ad Blocking Summit in June, condemning ad-blocking software for the decline in financial support his company receives. While Thompson admitted the industry is partially to blame for relying on irrelevant, intrusive ads, he nonetheless expressed the view that people who use the software should not be allowed access to articles from The New York Times.

"No one who refuses to contribute to the creation of high-quality journalism has the right to consume it," he said during his speech.

Many other publishers also blame ad blockers, claiming the software causes them to lose a near-disastrous amount of revenue. These companies have tried a variety of different solutions, from complete pay walls to asking readers to white list their website to providing a few free articles per month. One such publication went further in its appeal to readers for support.

Journalism: A lengthy, costly process
Mother Jones, a nonprofit news publication, recently released an article requesting readers support the website with monthly contributions. Mother Jones operates on an online subscription business model and is mostly funded by readers. To make its case, the publication detailed the history of funding journalism and showed how little ad revenue contributed to its recent groundbreaking story.

In June 2016, Mother Jones published a 35,000-word investigative report on the state of private prisons. The article detailed the experience of one of its journalists, Shane Bauer, who worked undercover as a guard for four months. The story was well-received and read by over one million people, and it ultimately inspired the U.S. Department of Justice to cease contracting with private prisons.

While Bauer's article brought an abundance of critical success, the ad revenue Mother Jones saw as a result didn't come close to matching the expenses that went into making it. The story cost an estimated $350,000, but the online ads that appeared within only brought in $5,000. 

A transparent appeal for readers
Mother Jones admitted that it could have received more money if it increased the number of ads that ran within the article. It also acknowledged that doing so would upset readers, and the ad revenue still wouldn't nearly be enough to match the $350,000 spent.

"Mother Jones decided to to present their case for reader support with evidence."

Instead, the company decided to appeal to readers directly and ask them for support outright. Its aim was to be honest - not to scare people into subscribing or to inundate them with advertisements, but to present their case for reader support with evidence. The company emphasized that reader support allows it to work independently and outside the interests of advertisers and billionaires with their own agendas. It said reader support, which contributes to 70 percent of its current budget, would allow Mother Jones to conduct more investigative reports like Bauer's. Readers who contributed recurring payments would be directly responsible for this quality journalism.

Mother Jones's choice to be so transparent with readers is certainly unlike other news organizations, and its direct appeal for funding is more commonly seen among television and public radio. Not all news organizations can take this kind of approach, but it will be interesting to see the effect this move has on readers. 

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Vindicia Team

Vindicia Team

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