The Public Publisher: Why membership matters (especially this month)

Crosscut's new publisher, Greg Shaw, on journalism, foundation support and the importance of readers becoming members. (Yes, you!) Today we begin our fall membership drive.
Crosscut archive image.

Greg Shaw, Crosscut's new publisher/CEO

Crosscut's new publisher, Greg Shaw, on journalism, foundation support and the importance of readers becoming members. (Yes, you!) Today we begin our fall membership drive.

On a recent sunny afternoon in Seattle, one of those gifts we welcome as October arrives, I made my way through Monday afternoon traffic to meet with a potential funder of Crosscut.

Not very long ago I sat in the comfortable offices of philanthropy. I worked for a number of years at the largest foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Seattle area is fortunate to have quite a few generous foundations and individual donors.
Now that I am the one asking for funding rather than the one hearing those requests, I have become accustomed to the ritual. Find parking, check in at the front desk, hope my host is in a good mood, walk to the conference room, settle in, and tell the story of journalism’s vital importance in informing, engaging and advancing a community.
Inevitably one of the first questions we are asked is how Crosscut supports itself. We tell them that foundation grants and wealthy donors are important, but we are also supported by advertisers, sponsors and, like NPR and PBS, our members.
When foundations and large donors make the connection that we are member-supported like public broadcasting they become very curious.
“You are supported by reading members?” they ask.
“Yes. Our members are actually a significant part of Crosscut's revenues, same for other nonprofit online news sites in Texas, Minnesota, California and Missouri.”
There is an implied (and imperative) expectation among supporters of nonprofit journalism. Readers expect large donors to support Crosscut and large donors expect readers to support Crosscut. The truth is that both are right.
October begins Crosscut’s fall membership drive. This is when we ask our readers to become members or renew membership with us by making a donation.
Like voting, becoming a member of Crosscut or another public media organization like NPR can sometimes beg the question – does my contribution really count?
Let me be clear about this. Yes! 
Grants from foundations and other donors, which we pursue year-around, are an important part of the mix of revenues that help Crosscut to function. But they want to see membership support in our budget when they do their due diligence review of our application. The Seattle Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the Gates Foundation have funded Crosscut in the past with significant grants, which have since run out. Fortunately, we are once again finding interest and generosity among large donors to support quality journalism.
The leader in our little corner of the world of journalism is the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit online daily which in 2010 saw revenues of $1.8 million and unique monthly visitors of nearly 400,000. The Voice of San Diego, another non-profit news site, saw $1.13 million in revenues with 141,600 unique monthly visitors. By comparison, Crosscut has seen a budget of about $600,000 and has averaged about 80,000 unique monthly visitors. We are currently below that, but our goal is growth in our readership, our budget and of course our impact in the region.
Our approach, which is also the practice for other successful non-profit journalism efforts, is built in part on a fairly simple formula. Increase original, quality story count, and as a result drive up both page views and unique monthly visitors. Page views are closely watched by advertisers and sponsors. Monthly visitors (our readers), in turn, can translate into paying members and donors – we hope!
The formula for success, however, is elusive.
If we’re going to have quality journalism, we’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it. That’s how ABC News’ former CEO David Westin sums up his business assessment of journalism in the memoir, Exit Interview.
Along with our other non-profit journalism colleagues in Austin, Minneapolis and elsewhere, Crosscut is working mightily to prove that non-profit journalism is both scalable and sustainable. But we need your help.
In past fall membership drives, more than 300 Crosscut readers, both new and renewing, have contributed an average of nearly $80 per membership. Our goal this year is to surpass those numbers.
If you are one of the nearly 3,500 daily Crosscut newsletter subscribers we hope you are finding value in the daily delivery and that you’ll be among the first to donate now.
Any amount is appreciated. We try to make it easy to give. Below are several options for making your contribution. In a few weeks we also plan to make it possible for you to pay using your Visa card.

Check back throughout the month. You will have opportunities to win fun prizes. And our writers will be contributing personal essays about why they write for us and why they hope you will help to support Crosscut.

On behalf of the entire staff, our board and community of writers, thank you for reading Crosscut. And thank you for considering membership.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Greg Shaw

Greg Shaw

Greg Shaw is a senior director in Microsoft’s strategy group.