Giving Compass' Take:
- NPQ interviews Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones, about the future of nonprofit journalism and how the sector is changing.
- What can donors do to help address unique issues for nonprofit news?
- Read more about nonprofit news as a service.
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At NPQ, we have long tracked changes in the business model of journalism, including the rise of nonprofit journalism. Not only are we a part of that industry, but it is an industry that is changing rapidly—and the implications of those changes are significant for journalism, the social justice fields we cover, and the future of democracy. In this interview, Monika Bauerlein, who has worked at Mother Jones since 2000 and has been its CEO since 2015, shares her perspective.
Steve Dubb: I saw a recent article that said 74 percent of your revenue comes from readers, either subscriptions or donations. Could you break down your revenue profile—subscription, individual donors, philanthropy, advertising—and how that profile has changed over time?
Monika Bauerlein: Mother Jones is somewhat unique. We have been a nonprofit news organization for nearly 50 years. It really predated the growth of nonprofit news, which really only took off after the recession of 2009–2010.
There is no one revenue source that can keep journalism alive. Advertising isn’t going to. When Mother Jones was founded, the biggest sources of advertising were tobacco and cars. We came out early on with investigations of those two industries, so there went that [as possible funding sources]. So, we have long relied on our readership.
That said, there have been shifts. In 2015, when I assumed the publisher role at Mother Jones, advertising was about 13 percent of revenues. Now it is about 6 percent. That is partly because other revenue sources have grown.
Advertising is under tremendous pressure. That is one trend line. Magazine readership has stayed quite stable for us, while it has really collapsed for other publishers. It is a statement of how much readers care and are committed to keeping it alive, which is why we count subscriptions [along with donations] as reader support.
We have always had at Mother Jones a very large base of individual donors, which in many cases are magazine subscribers, but…it is because they support the journalism and [believe it] should it exist. We don’t have a paywall like most other publishers. That is because people in our community of support believe that journalism is not transactional. Because it makes an impact in the world.
Institutional [foundation] support has not been as significant as [it] has been for newer organizations. There has been growth in this area and there needs to continue to be growth. Funders are increasingly recognizing that it is not just about funding a specialized thing called journalism but that any institution that cares about democracy needs to focus on supporting journalism.
SD: Could you talk about how the advertising power and algorithms of Facebook and Google are changing the nature of journalism?
MB: Well, there is an art there. Initially, in the early 2010s and late 2000s, these digital platforms were an engine of expanding access to journalism. It was a lot easier for people to find the information they wanted to find. It had a positive effect initially. Mother Jones was the first general-interest publisher on the internet in 1993. It was long before I was here, but the folks at Mother Jones at the time saw the internet as a democratizing platform. But quickly, as Facebook and Google attracted tremendous amounts of global capital, their relationship with information became much more transactional.
Read the full article about nonprofit journalism by Steve Dubb and Monika Bauerlein at Nonprofit Quarterly .