For the last couple of months, we’ve been taking flak from some of our readers over our election coverage. Here’s a sample of Facebook comments from a recent story, headlined “Sanders Extends His Lead in Wyoming.”
“You hate Bernie.” “Boy the media hates her!”
Journalists like us typically shrug off this kind of criticism. When we make people on both sides mad, we must be doing something right…right?
But Mother Jones is not your typical news organization, this isn’t your typical election season, and we’ve never been too much into doing things the way they’ve always been done. So we wanted to take a different tack this time and address these concerns with you, head-on.
We won’t be coy: This is about building a relationship, and we’re going to ask for money.
Mother Jones is a reader-supported nonprofit, and that means we rely on donations and magazine subscriptions for 70 percent of our annual budget. It also means that by April 30, we need to raise $175,000 from readers like you to stay on track.
So the easiest thing to do, in some ways, would be taking it easy on our election coverage so as not to upset any of you while we’re asking for your support—we know Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders appeal to a lot of our readers. But taking it easy on anything is not in our DNA; in fact, it’s exactly the opposite of what (we think) you want us to do.
We’ll explain why we believe that—but if you don’t need to read more, please make your tax-deductible donation to help fund our reporting right now. (You can use PayPal, too, which could be easier if you’re reading this on your phone.)
Here’s one big thing about being supported by readers: No one tells us what to cover, or how. That means we’re free to do what good journalism has always done: Offend some of the people, all of the time.
Unlike some publications, we don’t endorse or support candidates. As a nonprofit, we’re legally prohibited from doing that, and, just as importantly, it would be counter to what we stand for journalistically. We’re not about telling you how to make up your mind. You do just fine on your own. What we are about is giving you the facts you need to do it—even when they are uncomfortable.
That often means going to extra lengths: Unlike a lot of “news” you read online, what we write goes through a real fact-checking process. (Read a great description of it, by one of our ace former researchers, here.)
And it means digging in places where others aren’t. Back in 2012, pundits insisted that voters didn’t really care about the 0.01 percent and their disproportionate influence in politics—until we revealed how Mitt Romney had told his big-ticket donors that 47 percent of Americans were moochers. Two years ago, when few were talking about Clinton’s links to the fossil fuel industry, we did a major investigative feature on her support for fracking as secretary of state; now her links to the fossil fuel industry are a big issue. Last summer, we ran the first in-depth piece on Sanders’ political evolution (and put an illustration of him on Mount Rushmore on the cover of our magazine); it took months for other major outlets to take him seriously. Since then, we’ve both covered the breaking news in the race and dug deeper on the strong points and weak points of both candidates—because that’s the job you want us to do.
Stories that make some of our readers uncomfortable don’t just happen during a presidential election. The increase in mass shootings and the influence of the National Rifle Association, the neuroscience behind racism, the incredible amount of water it takes to grow a single almond—we’ve gotten pushback from a lot of people about these stories, too, but they’ve also turned into mainstays of the public debate.
And that’s what we’re aiming for: substantive reporting that challenges conventional wisdom. There are plenty of places that serve up content to affirm what their readers already believe. But we think you deserve better.
Do we expect our biggest critics to open up their wallets to support us after reading this? Nope. But being a reader-supported nonprofit means building a real relationship with our audience, and that starts with trust. We hope there are enough of you who trust us to provide information you won’t find anywhere else—even if, especially if, it challenges your own preconceptions.
Update (4/29/16): We’ve gotten a lot of comments, both here and on Facebook, some supportive and some not so much. But here’s the amazing thing: Far more of you have chosen to pitch in than have commented—a silent majority, if you will. In all, 396 people have contributed after reading this article, for a total of nearly $14,000. Wow, and thank you.