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By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor
It’s a season of some joy at Asheville Watchdog, the free, nonprofit news organization founded last year by some lifelong journalists and media executives who can’t quite figure out what it means when they hand you the golf clubs.
In case you missed it, Jim Morrill in The Assembly last month told the story of the Watchdog and its all-volunteer staff of acclaimed journalists who can’t stop digging into the people’s business. But I was curious about what was new since then, and there’s plenty, publisher Bob Gremillion told me.
◼️ A paid reporter: The staff will have its first full-time paid employee next June. Report for America announced this morning that it had approved the Watchdog’s bid to be a host newsroom, and will place an RFA corps member there for two years to report on topics related to Asheville’s and Buncombe County’s plans for reparations to Black communities. (Read on for other NC newsrooms joining Report for America.)
The Watchdog, Gremillion told me, has already raised the money to pay its part of that reporter’s salary — up to half of which is picked up by RFA in the first year.
“It’s feeling very real all of a sudden,” he said.
◼️ Fundraising: It’s going well, Gremillion said. First, as Morrill reported, veteran fundraiser Alex Comfort — who “cares about democracy,” Gremillion told me — joined the team this fall as director of fundraising programs and brought extensive knowledge of area donors. “Most of the bigger donors have come from Alex’s list,” Gremillion said.
Watchdog leaders also have been holding gatherings of former and potential donors. “They’re very appreciative of the added journalism in the market,” he said. Locally, the fundraising appeal is to individual donors, he said, but the team is also “dancing for some foundations.”
The Watchdog is part of the NewsMatch campaign, which uses money from funders and philanthropists to match a participating INN newsroom’s individual gifts in November and December, dollar for dollar — up to $13,000 this year.
“We’ve topped out,” Gremillion said. “And we’re going beyond that.”
◼️ The future: The Watchdog gets no earned income now, Gremillion said, and the content will always be free — to readers and to the other news outlets that republish it. “That’s how it will always be, as long as I’m the publisher,” he said.
But sponsorships are a possibility. “We have these ‘church and state’ discussions among our little group,” Gremillion said, “and I’m the state, because I’m not a journalist. … But, you know, here’s a way to raise money, every day that goes by…” He added that they would be “very careful” about the terms.
As for collaborations with other outlets in reporting projects, the Watchdog has done none so far, he said, but is always open to a proposal.
‘Hang on for the end…’
I reached out to several other news organizations for an update on their year-end fundraising.
At North Carolina Health News, “we’re running about even with last year” in the NewsMatch campaign and getting a few more major donors, founder and editor Rose Hoban told me Tuesday. NC Health News has “topped out” each year, she said, on the NewsMatch campaign, which began in 2016. And Giving Tuesday is a “big driver,” she said, sometimes with more than 100 donors.
But as fundraisers know, you’re never really sure how your year-end campaign went until someone asks you whether old acquaintance should be forgot.
“New Year’s Eve is always just nuts,” Hoban said. “The reason you get a kabillion emails (the last two or three days) is because people wait until the deadline, right?” In 2018, she said, NC Health News had 319 donors — 70 of them on the last two days.
“You’re like, ‘Are we gonna make the goal… Are we gonna make the goal…’ And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Woohoo! Here it goes!”
So her advice: “Hang on for the end.”
◼️ The War Horse, which is based in Richlands and reports on “the human impact of military service,” is close to the $13,000 cap that would be doubled by NewsMatch and is “humbled by the outpouring of support for our work,” executive director Thomas Brennan said. The NewsMatch campaign last year raised one-third of The War Horse’s membership money, Brennan told me, and the publication “has secured more than $10,000 of the available match” this year and is “on track to increase our membership donations this year by 50%.” The gifts “will help assign ambitious reporting projects and host a writing seminar for children whose parent died in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he added. [Donate here.]
◼️ Scalawag, whose mission is centered on pursuing “a more liberated South,” has already reached NewsMatch’s $13,000 cap, audience manager Sarah Glen told me. “On Giving Tuesday, we highlighted the ways Black-led media are systemically underfunded, and our community rallied around us,” she said, adding that ”before the year ends, we need to bring in at least $5,000 more in reader support.” Anyone who becomes a Scalawag member before Dec. 16 gets free admission that night to its Jubilee, “a Southern ass evening of liberatory lit,” and all 2022 events. [Join here.]
◼️ At Southerly, which reports on ecology, justice and culture in the South, they’re working toward their $10,000 goal, founder and executive editor Lyndsey Gilpin told me — and “we’re giving away t-shirts until the end of the month to those who give any amount!” [Donate here.]
➵ Seven year-end fundraising tips in the LION Publishers newsletter.
➵ For-profit newsrooms are adding philanthropy as another way to make money. By Kristen Hare, Poynter.