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Less Dreading, More Doing – Mother Jones

Less Dreading, More Doing – Mother Jones
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Where to begin? 

The most obvious place is with another cup of coffee, and November’s election. 

This is Mother Jones, after all, and doing investigative journalism that can advance democracy and justice is why we exist and what we’ve been doing for 48 years. You can bet we have much to say (and report on) about the battle between authoritarianism and democracy that’s playing out before our eyes. From fundamental civil rights to war and peace, almost any issue you might care about is on the line this year.

Also top of mind for us: the challenged (shall we say) state of journalism. That means the brutal economics that have forced so many outlets to shutter or shrivel, but also the cowardice on display when big national outlets cave to bullies. This is not fine, as David Corn writes.  

It’s a lot. It’s stressful. When we recently asked how the MoJo community was feeling about the election, so many responses included varying states of anxiety, terror, or disgust. Same for us, honestly.

How about doing something different? 

Mother Jones did: We just took a huge step forward by bringing the Center for Investigative Reporting and Mother Jones together as one newsroom, one investigative journalism nonprofit, to better confront some of the big challenges we face. It’s been inspiring meeting our new colleagues and seeing how they go about this work. We’re barely 100 days in, and already we have some ambitious full-court press projects to share with you. It’s an exciting time around here.  

So now seems like a great time to talk about optimism and hope, and what we’re doing instead of what we’re dreading. As a MoJo reader and retired teacher told us in response to the same question that elicited so much despair: “I see optimism as a political choice and necessity.” That landed as we thought about the high stakes ahead—and how to kick off our first big fundraising push since joining forces with CIR in February. It’s a big one!  

The brass tacks first: We need to raise $500,000 in online donations by June 22, and hitting that number is vitally important. It’s also a higher number than normal, because normal isn’t enough right now. And with the presidential campaign at a fever pitch this fall, we can’t count on a lot of fundraising at that time. You told us so, and we’ll do our best to honor that. We have to get started in a major way now. 

We don’t usually name our fundraising campaigns either, but we’re calling this one the First $500,000 because it’s literally a first: We are a new, more ambitious and impactful organization thanks to having Reveal, CIR Studios, and Mother Jones under one big community-supported tent. 

Something else different about what we’re doing: We respect your intelligence, which is why we always take a pass on the overwrought tone and downright manipulative fundraising BS that we all see too much of. It can be so gross, so void of an actual argument for something. Crisis drives fundraising (and algorithms), but there’s only so much crisis anyone can take.   

Trust is harder won, but way more durable. For 48 years, our newsroom has survived by trusting that somehow, enough people will support us to go after essential stories that others don’t, and to tell them fairly and well. Right now, we’re trusting that level-headedly discussing this wild moment, and how we’re laying it all out there to rise to it, will inspire more people to pitch in than if we were to take another lap around the doom loop. 

There are so many great new things to share with you today, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. If you already know MoJo and CIR means a lot of great journalism and opportunities to have an even bigger impact, a First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do.

Can’t afford to donate? We appreciate you just the same. Below, there are exciting things worth knowing for everyone—and even a free Strengthen Journalism sticker so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this moment. Reaching more people about who we are and what we do is vital right now. We also need to know what you think: Please be generous with your feedback, questions, or ideas as we start talking about the new organization we’re becoming. 

Because none of this works without you—a community consisting of all types of people who share a common belief in the power of great journalism to help bring about change. 


Quick links: Become a First $500,000 donor. Skip to an awesome video summary. Let the journalism speak for itself. Get your free Strengthen Journalism sticker to help us spread the word.


In a moment like this, when it feels like the very notion of truth and accountability is at risk, there are two paths. Hunker down and retrench, or try to bust out and do something new. You will absolutely not be surprised that Mother Jones chose the latter. Because that’s what you, our readers, have always chosen. Take a risk that seems worth taking when it can lead to something big. 

We have a real chance, right now, to prove there are ways to strengthen journalism at a time when it’s desperately needed. And sorry for the all-caps, but THIS IS NOT ANOTHER STARTUP THAT PROMISES TO FIX JOURNALISM ONLY TO END UP LIGHTING MONEY ON FIRE. 

Honestly, if you asked us to sketch out a modern news operation that has a chance of sustainability, it would probably look a lot like Mother Jones and CIR. This combo checks so many of the unglamorous but super-important boxes: solid journalism ✔️; an engaged and passionate audience ✔️; journalists calling the shots instead of profit-driven corporations or power-driven billionaires ✔️; a hybrid, well-balanced business model so the inevitable hits are less likely to knock us out completely ✔️; big reach on multiple platforms, to become less algorithm-dependent and more able to reach unique audiences ✔️. 

It’s an awesome starting point. 

But it’s also a kind of terrifying road ahead—overnight, going from a team of 87 to 116, from an already sweat-inducing budget of $19 million per year to $26 million. The honest-to-goodness truth is that we don’t know yet whether we can sustain a bigger, bolder newsroom for the long haul when the forces in media are pulling so hard toward contraction and closure. But one tough road is a little less scary when two tough newsrooms face it together, and it becomes downright doable when we have enough people helping us along

We have a lot riding on this First $500,000 fundraising push—the first time we’re asking you to back this new organization we’re creating. We need to break through to more people who care about this work but have never donated before. It would be utterly devastating if this falls flat. As we hit publish on this post, we have no idea how it might go. But we know this: If we can get you half as excited as we are, we’ll be okay. A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean a lot right now. 

Like peanut butter and chocolate, Mother Jones and CIR work so damn well together. Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, the energy we’re feeling isn’t from a sugar high—there’s real sustenance here. 

It starts with solid journalism: in-depth investigations; beats and big projects that prioritize underreported topics and seek out overlooked voices; reporting that gets out ahead of the big stories and sticks with them; journalism that adds something to the day’s news and is meant to bring about change. That’s what Mother Jones and CIR have always done. Combining forces makes us more impactful and a bit more resilient. It gets more journalism to more people. It’s the best path ahead.  

CIR is best known for Reveal, the weekly investigative radio show and podcast, hosted by Al Letson, heard on more than 500 public radio stations, covering 98 percent of the US. It’s so good! So good that the pilot episode, back in 2013, won a Peabody Award—talk about nailing it from the start. 

When we asked Al why he loves audio storytelling and what it brings to the table, without hesitation, he said “intimacy.” “I get to talk to you one on one: If I can tell the story right, modulate my voice, talk the right way, it can reach people on a more emotional level than print. Telling a story to someone can cut through the noise.” Reader, it does. You can hear and feel the empathy and care alongside the indignation and discomfort in Al’s voice. If you want to experience how powerful it can be, listen to Mississippi Goddam, a seven-part series investigating the death of a kid named Billey Joe Johnson. This project made good on a promise Al gave a decade ago, and he and the team spent a lot more effort looking for answers than it seems officials in Mississippi ever did. 

“You have what everyone wants” is a nice thing to hear on the job—and it’s what documentary producers and directors tell Amanda Pike, who leads CIR Studios. They’re after IP, intellectual property, but we’ve always just called them stories—well-crafted, deeply reported stories with resonance and impact. 

Victim/Suspect was the team’s first feature documentary. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was the most-watched documentary on Netflix the week it was released last May. It follows reporter Rachel de Leon over four years as she unearths a chilling trend: how police bully young sexual assault survivors into retracting their allegations, then charge them as the criminals. It’s blood-boiling. And so well done: After a screening a few weeks ago in Washington, DC, senior editor Jeremy Schulman raved: “The interview with the detective was one of the most amazing feats of journalism I’ve seen. Can’t believe he agreed to do that on camera.” The next big project, The Grab, debuts in theaters and video on demand on June 14. 

Impressive, huh? 

Now add in what Mother Jones is best known for. Our print magazine is perhaps more ambitious than ever, with special issues over the last two years exposing how private equity is upending so much in our daily lives, what it will take to actually decarbonize the economy, and our most recent one calling it what it is: American Oligarchy

And our large, highly engaged digital and social presence isn’t about exploding watermelons. It’s about putting the journalism first, as we did when we first invested in going digital nearly 20 years ago, when we built out a DC bureau led by David Corn to start reporting the untold stories of our national politics. And just as we did then, we work hard to get on every digital channel where people need to hear the truth.

Radio and podcast, documentaries, a beautiful print magazine, and one helluva digital footprint: What do you get when you add it all up? 

You get one of the feistiest investigative operations out there, because donations big and small from more than 50,000 people make it possible. You get to partner with newsrooms and reporters who have great stories but need our wraparound investigative support and big reach. You get trustworthy journalism out to 10 million people at a time when it’s so needed. Whether someone scrolls through TikTok, turns on the radio, watches TV, opens their mailbox, peruses a newsstand, clicks on a website, pulls up a podcast, or enjoys email newsletters, our reporting can find them. 

And different ways to tell a story can make it land differently. Case in point: Here’s video correspondent Garrison Hayes, late last year, explaining why we’re so excited about joining forces with CIR. It’s way more powerful than any number of pages we could have written. 

If you’re feeling it, a donation of $500, $50, or $5 would be a powerful symbol that you’re on board, and the cold, hard cash we also very much need as we kick off this exciting new chapter.

None of this means a thing if it’s not about powerful stories with powerful impact—so as we wrap this up, let’s take a quick look at some current projects and priorities that get at what makes our work unique and hopefully worth supporting

When it comes to the mind-bogglingly high-stakes election in less than six months, our coverage starts with acknowledging the generational attack on democracy we’re living through, and rejecting the insidious view from nowhere and false equivalency that helped get us here in the first place. This is not politics as usual. 

One of our big priorities is going deep on voting rights, how minority rule is the story behind the headlines, and, importantly, what can be done to fight back and protect the right to vote and have representation. These stories aren’t going to be told as factually and forcefully as they need to be, if at all, by most of the big national media right now. They will be by Mother Jones

We’ll also be focusing on the Supreme Court and the huge decisions, past and present, that are shaping the race and could affect the outcome—Citizens United, Bush v. Gore, and how the fight for reproductive rights makes this election different. We’ll be looking at Trump world characters, and we’re figuring out which places we can send reporters to, because boots on the ground matter. A First $500,000 donation will help us do all of this. 

We also have to cover stories outside of the political realm and in communities that don’t often get national media attention. In Mother Jonesmost recent cover story, senior reporter Samantha Michaels dug deep into the death of a teenage boy, Braven Glenn, on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana involving a member of an under-resourced police force; when the grieving mother went to ask questions at the police department afterward, she found that it had closed up shop and disappeared. After Sam’s story was published, she received the following message from a friend of the teen’s family:  

“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for pursuing Braven’s story…The depth and care you put into it were incredible. This is such an important story for Braven’s family, but also for so many others who face similar injustices. It’s so rare that these stories get the kind of platform you provided, and I truly appreciate you shining a light on them.”

Like so much of our reporting, the story of Braven is not over; its impact may just be getting started. Along with a cover story in our magazine and on our website, Sam told the story on a gripping episode of Reveal and in a moving short film

Sometimes our reporting changes laws. In March, Utah enacted legislation allowing clergy members who learn of ongoing child abuse during a confession to report it to police without fear of legal retaliation. The legislature had tried for years to get this passed without success. So what changed?

It was the journalism. 

In December, our Reveal radio show, in collaboration with the Associated Press, exposed how Mormon church policies protected alleged abusers, including a man accused of sexually assaulting his daughter. The story reached listeners on more than 500 stations in all 50 states. The bill was passed and signed within months. And the former Mormon bishop at the center of the investigation was arrested after being indicted on felony child sex abuse charges.

Holding the powerful to account is at the core of democracy, and that’s exactly what our journalism was designed to do. When there is corruption in the very institutions designed to protect us, investigative reporting can make a big difference—and so can you.

Being optimistic doesn’t mean putting blinders on, promising easy fixes, or going too hard on the hopium. All this awesome work adds up to $26 million a year, and it’s still going to be hard as hell getting to the break-even point every December 31. When it comes to our finances and budget, our CFO, Madeleine “MacGyver” Buckingham, put it this way on our monthly all-hands call last week: “We budget aggressively and spend much time on cash management—there is no room for error.”

Operating a newsroom right now is like walking a tightrope…or actually riding a unicycle on a tightrope, while balancing 100 spinning plates, juggling half a dozen flaming bowling pins, getting knocked around by wind gusts from all directions, unsure if your hair is on fire again or maybe it’s just the dumpster fires you smell, and oops, you’ve been muted on your Zoom call this whole time—and you know there’s still a long way to go. But at least we’re not blindfolded.

We don’t have The Next New Thing that will make journalism profitable, but we know a thing or two about staying alive. We have a combined 95-year track record of reporting that punches above its weight, is well respected by our peers, and most importantly is trusted by an audience that helps keep it going—and keep it free for everyone, because quality information shouldn’t be just for those who can afford it. That’s something.

Or rather, it’s everything. Being focused on mission, not on profit, keeps solid information accessible for everyone. It lets you go where others don’t, free from corporate pressure. It lets us say, “Yeah, let’s go big on this,” which is the best gift a team of journalists can ask for. We can do all of that because of you. 

As we double down on what we know works, keep trying all sorts of new things big and small, and bring you all along like this, we’re also hoping there might be pieces other newsrooms can adapt. Because nonprofit or for-profit, billionaire-backed or corporate-controlled, paywalled or a few freebies to use judiciously, glossy and perfumed or DIY and sweaty, no matter the model, more people trusting where their news comes from and more newsrooms trusting their audiences is part of what we need to strengthen journalism. 

That’s our big bet in 2024 at least, and we’ll find out soon enough.

It starts with the First $500,000 in donations we need right now. We’re going to learn so much in these next few weeks and in the months ahead. Including, of course, from the questions and feedback you share with us here. (And by the way, if you hear both from us and from our colleague Missa Perron from the Reveal team, please know that we’re doing our best to avoid duplication—but all donations go to the same place and we’re grateful.)

The plan after the First $500,000: not always earnestly asking for money, but keeping right at it to get our journalism and our vision to people in ways we haven’t before. Because that’s how we’ll be able to sustain the bigger, bolder newsroom we now are for the long haul: by getting more journalism to more people in more ways. By expanding the community of people who share a common belief in the power of great journalism to help bring about change.   

It’s not rocket science—any billionaire can do that. The work here on Earth is about making meaningful connections with other humans around meaningful journalism. Whether decades or just moments ago, something about our work spoke to you and everyone reading this. Mother Jones and CIR are about creating a lot more of those moments for a lot more people well into the future. That’s reason for optimism.  

A summary if you skipped down to the free sticker: We just took a big step by joining forces with the Center for Investigative Reporting and bringing Reveal, CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one ferocious, independent, investigative journalism nonprofit. It’s a great combination and sets us up to better confront some of the big challenges we face in journalism. But it definitely won’t be easynever has been, never will be. To make the most of this moment, beyond the First $500,000 in donations we need right now, we also need to start reaching more people who care about quality journalism but might not know about our work or vision. So please help us celebrate our momentous merger and help us spread the word!

Sign up for the Mother Jones Daily newsletter below (if you already get it, confirm your email anyway), and we’ll follow up so you can tell us where to send your free Strengthen Journalism sticker. We’ll be using StrenghtenJournalism.com to point to (shorter!) posts like this, so we always have a welcome mat out for curious onlookers or new readers, and a welcome hug (an update on how things are going) for people who come by often. 

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And an enormous thank you to the talented Kyle Letendre, who designed this sticker.



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