I never thought Veronica Mars and long form reporting on climate change had anything in common, but it turns out, they both have the same business model. You want it? You’ll have to pony up for it.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has been reporting on nuclear weapons, power, disarmament and general military issues surrounding it since 1945, sustains itself with a combination of digital subscriptions, individual donations, and foundational philanthropy. This spring, William and Eleanor Revelle, who’ve led the clean energy cause and have supported The Bulletin with donations and insight on their editorial board, are offering a Challenge Gift. They’ll grant $50,000 and match every donation made to the Bulletin until May 31, 2013 in the hope of raising $100,000 to be used toward reporting on climate change. A week after announcing the challenge, $10,000 has already been raised and Bulletin publisher Kennette Benedict is hopeful that they’ll meet their goal.
It’s a good example of what news organizations need to do to thrive. Here’s why it works:
1) Diversity is Key
According to Benedict, donations and grants like this make her journal work. Individual donations makes up about 20% of their revenues. Ten percent is from subscriptions to digital content and the rest is from philanthropy. When the Post announced its paywall yesterday, the internet was already lamenting its ‘leaks.’
But that is sort of the point. When advertising just doesn’t work, subscription and membership models have to be dynamic. We’ll see how the Post works out this summer. But for niche news, like the Bulletin, there should be options. The Bulletin offers some content, like roundtables and short articles for free. You can buy single articles. Or you can subscribe to the full digital version, as an individual or as an organization. Since their news is, well, news-worthy, they offer free subscriptions for media personnel. So a journalist reporting on climate change or nuclear power can get research from the Bulletin experts.
2) Stay on Your Beat
But to depend on donations from readers, you have to offer good content. Veronica Mars’ Kickstarter campaign worked because they had not just a fan base, but a script ready for pre-production and the big name stars to offer. You can’t start from scratch. Likewise with news. Read more