Press Forward 2016: The Knoxville Mercury Fundraising Campaign

In Cover Stories by Coury Turczynleave a COMMENT

Quick Links to Donation Pages:

Direct Donations:
gofundme.com/pressforward2016

Advertising:
sales@knoxmercury.com
865-313-2048

Tax-Deductible Donations to the Knoxville History Project:
knoxmercury.com/KHP
jack@knoxhistoryproject.org

Write a Check to the Knoxville Mercury and Mail It to:
Knoxville Mercury
706 Walnut St., Suite 404
Knoxville, TN 37902

Thank You for Your Support!

Announcing our 2016 fundraising campaign—help support Knoxville’s best alternative to corporate news media and keep our city moving forward.

Here’s the Upshot:

Your Ongoing Support is Critical to Knoxville’s Future

Over a year ago, our original Kickstarter campaign raised over $60,000 from 645 backers to start a new weekly paper for Knoxville that’s as unique as the city itself. Through private donations and other fundraisers, we were able to collect about $200,000 for our launch. (By the way: Thanks for that!) Since then, the Knoxville Mercury has become an award-winning journalistic endeavor and a local institution in the making.

Now, in our second year, we must build on our achievements by ensuring the Mercury’s sustainability as an ongoing business. We need your help.

Here’s How It Started
COVER_0421_PressForward1Tricia Bateman

After the sudden closure of Metro Pulse in 2014 (despite its profitability), editors Jack Neely, Coury Turczyn, and Matthew Everett sought a new model of publishing that’s not beholden to corporate or personal agendas. They came up with a unique ownership structure: an educational nonprofit that governs a taxable not-for-profit weekly paper.

Jack Neely heads the Knoxville History Project, dedicated to researching, promoting, and celebrating Knoxville’s cultural heritage and history. The Knoxville Mercury—KHP’s primary venue for educating the public—received startup funding from KHP as well as ongoing weekly ad purchases. The IRS reviewed this plan and approved KHP’s 501(c)(3) status.

The KHP and the Mercury are separate organizations, run by separate boards of directors. The Knoxville History Project is the “sole member,” the equivalent of the owner, of the Knoxville Mercury. Any profits from the Mercury go not to enrich any owner or investor, but to support the educational programs of the Knoxville History Project.

To attain consistent profitability, we must add critical pieces to our organizations.

Here’s What We Accomplished

In a year’s worth of issues, with a staff of one full-time and one part-time reporter, we’ve made a sizable dent into the local media landscape. Beyond our unmatched arts and entertainment coverage and criticism—plus our cornerstone of providing a unique view of Knoxville’s history—we have strived to report original stories that aren’t just clickbait headlines.

We go into depth about local issues that truly matter—long-form journalism that you can’t get anywhere else:

• We broke the news of a Walmart developer’s plans to demolish one of the most historic houses in North Knoxville, the Howard House, for a parking lot, and later in the year its similar proposal for a West Knox County public park. Our Howard House story reached over 60,000 people on Facebook alone. The proposals were abandoned or defeated in the face of public outcry.

• We exposed a plan to sell the Knoxville College campus to a developer—without public disclosure or a request for proposals. That plan was jettisoned and the KC board formed a committee to gather other proposals.

• We showed how guidelines for hilltop development—agreed-upon over a contentious years-long process—are virtually ignored by Knox County government and used inconsistently within the city.

• We presented a three-part multi-story series that takes readers deep into how the Knoxville Police Department is managed—and found that officers with disciplinary problems rarely face any career repercussions. It also examined the KPD’s complicated relationship with Knoxville’s black community in the face of troubling incidents.

• We went beyond statistics to provide an up-close portrait of homelessness, showing what it’s truly like to live on Knoxville’s streets for a day.

• We brought to light accusations by students and parents that Knox County Schools’ sex education presentations are full of questionable approaches and jokes that create shame and fear rather than an informed student body.

Finally, we also provide the finest local crossword puzzle in Knoxville history.

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Here Are People Whose Lives We Touched

Information can make a difference. The Knoxville Mercury serves a variety of constituents, from readers concerned about local issues affecting our quality of life to people who just want to find out what to do this weekend. Our advertisers have equally important messages, from new businesses that seek to build a customer base to nonprofit institutions such as the Tennessee and Bijou theaters that need to promote their programming.

We’ve amassed a wide-ranging audience of readers who are more engaged, more outgoing, and more involved than any other media company’s in town. And they are connected together through our pages, our website, and our social media outlets.

Here are just a few of their stories:

From a Donor

COVER_0421_JudyLoest“I was asked recently why I support the Knoxville Mercury. It caused me to ponder and sift through the many and various reasons why I love our independent, locally-owned weekly newspaper. I guess I would have to start by saying I am a miniaturist of sorts. I celebrate the smallness, the seeming insignificance of minutiae that are imperative to any complex ecosystem.

“I believe a viable alternative weekly is a crucial resource in any community. It can serve and reflect its city’s diversity, scrutinize local government, and contribute to the cultural and political discourse in ways that traditional newspapers, constrained by budgetary and philosophical dictates of some remote corporate conglomerate, cannot. I believe the Knoxville Mercury, in small and often under-appreciated ways, helps shape our use of resources and our patterns of interaction with each other. Little by little, it raises awareness, broadens and enhances the fabric of social connection and, at the same time, provides a sharp, sometimes irreverent, but always entertaining view of Knoxville’s distinct flavor.”
—Judy Loest

From an Advertiser

COVER_0421_RickLaney“I have placed advertising in the Mercury for a number of our clients. We used the Mercury exclusively for advertising one of those clients—Gourmet’s Market—leading up to the 2015 International Biscuit Festival.
“By the time the festival opened, people were lined up around the block to get their hands on a Gourmet’s Market chicken biscuit (and Gourmet’s Market ended up winning Last Biscuit Standing at the festival). Shortly thereafter, we started running ads for our own company in the Mercury.”
—Rick Laney
President, CEO,

Rick Laney Marketing, LLC

From a Story Subject

COVER_0421_GabrielLefkowitz“I am, personally, so grateful for Alan Sherrod’s presence in our community and his work at the Knoxville Mercury, which has been of the utmost value and importance to this city’s cultural landscape. The last few years have been such an exciting time for classical music in Knoxville, from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s exceptional performances all over downtown (including two new series featuring thrilling small ensemble performances at the Square Room and the Knoxville Museum of Art), to the Knoxville Opera’s magnificent productions which continue to draw large and enthusiastic crowds throughout the year, to the emergence of astonishingly good new and independent small ensembles, to the hundreds of offerings each year by the UT School of Music.

“Alan has been there for it all, bringing attention to these wonderful happenings that help make Knoxville the wonderful community that it is, and he is an indispensable journalistic voice for classical music in Knoxville, providing insightful reviews and observations to the Mercury readership. Knoxvillians who enjoy classical music in their city already know how incredible it is that a city of Knoxville’s modest size supports and is home to the KSO, KO, UT School of Music, and more. We musicians feel equally fortunate that Knoxville has Alan Sherrod and the Knoxville Mercury.”
—Gabriel Lefkowitz
Violinist, Composer, Conductor

From a Reader

COVER_0421_CharlesBarber“The Knoxville Mercury has consistently excellent writing—not mere journalism, but passionate, highly literate journalism. Not only can I find important, interesting, and well-written pieces on history, music, the environment and politics, I can often identify who wrote each article without looking at the byline. Your writers, paid and unpaid, are all fantastic, readable, and talented.”
—Charles Barber

From You

Do you have a story to share? Help us spread the word. Donate at gofundme.com/pressforward2016, add your story in the comments, then share the link on social media.

Here’s Where We’re At Financially

We’re growing. Our April 14, 2016, issue was our biggest yet, featuring the Get Out and Play outdoors guide that we produced in conjunction with the Legacy Parks Foundation. It caps a year of establishing business relationships with Knoxville cultural institutions, community anchors, and vital businesses. For a complete list of over 300 clients who have advertised with us, go to knoxmercury.com/thankyou.

We rode a wave of community support to launch our first issue and get back to the business of publishing a great paper. That initial excitement set the tone for the last year, but please don’t take us for granted. Publishing a weekly paper with an online presence is an expensive endeavor. We hear lots of positive feedback, but to stay in business we need your help—keep showing that love by supporting us financially and letting our advertisers know that the Knoxville Mercury is where you turn to when deciding where you will spend your dollars locally. Without your support, this groundbreaking and vitally important effort will die.

We’re on our way to sustained profitability, but we still need you to get involved and ensure that Knoxville’s independent news source thrives and helps build the community we all want to see. Comparing the month of April’s sales, year over year, provides a good picture:

COVER_0421_RevenueComparison

But the advertising-only model for publishing print media is not a complete solution. Papers and magazines all across the country are struggling with that fact. So, beyond ad sales, another significant revenue stream has been you, the Knoxville Mercury’s readers. Since we established the League of Supporters, our donations program, we’ve had nearly 250 people write checks, charge their cards, and drop off cash directly to the paper.

Interesting facts:

• While public donations for TV, radio, and Web media are a standard practice these days, it’s not common for print publications. (Public radio, for instance, gets 34 percent of its funding from listeners and 19 percent from corporate underwriting.)

• The League of Supporters is our third-highest “client” in terms of revenue.

• All of the donations to the paper are not tax-deductible, as they would be to the Knoxville History Project.

This tells us that our readers take our mission very seriously, enough that they’re willing to help underwrite our journalistic endeavor with their own money.

We are utterly thankful and humbled by your vote of confidence in our abilities to fulfill our mission to report stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told—helping readers to have a better understanding of Knoxville’s critical issues, vital personalities, and unique cultural heritage.

But we’re not where we need to be in order to proclaim “mission accomplished” just yet. And that’s why we must conduct an annual fundraising campaign.

Here’s What We Need to Do to Succeed

We need to cover our operating expenses for the rest of the year as sales grow and then institute some structural changes:

• We need to expand our sales team. We have exactly two sales executives, Scott Hamstead and Stacey Pastor, who must attend to over 300 clients, from frequent advertisers to infrequent ones. But they must also contact and convey our message to new, potential clients. That’s simply too much work for only two people. We need another salaried sales person who’s got the experience and the passion to help us expand our client base.

• We need to hire a development director. Our original budget plan for publishing the paper included significant public and foundation support. But when it comes to managing all the facets of fundraising—cultivating a community of donors, planning and executing fundraisers, applying for grants—we need help. (For example, our Knoxtacular variety show was a lot of fun, but it turns out we’re not very good at asking people for donations.) We believe there’s potentially a lot more financial support to be found if we had one person whose sole responsibility is to develop it.

• We need to increase our distribution. The Knoxville Mercury currently has about 300 drop-off points in Knox, Blount, and Anderson counties, with a distribution of 25,000 copies. Most of them get picked up and read. In comparison, Metro Pulse published about 30,000 copies—but at more than twice the drop-off points. So, while our readership base is not that different, our public visibility is much less. We get a lot of complaints that readers can’t find the paper, or that their usual rack where they pick it up is out of papers too soon. We must fix this. (You can find a map of our newsstands at knoxmercury.com/find-us)

• We need to hire an assistant art director to help with weekly layouts and special issues. Straight up: Our art director, Tricia Bateman, is working herself to death. And part of our plan to increase ad sales is to add more special publications and issues like Get Out and Play or our Top Knox readers’ poll. Those sorts of endeavors require a lot of extra effort on top of producing a weekly paper.

For a publishing endeavor on this scale, our staffing is micro-sized. To put this into perspective, Asheville’s longtime weekly paper, the Mountain Xpress, employs a staff of 22 full-timers, with seven sales executives and two distribution managers (managers—not delivery people).

We have seven full-time employees, two part-timers, and one volunteer (business and distribution manager Scott Dickey, whom we’d like to pay soon). None of us are making grand salaries. None of us file expenses. None of us get much time off. We’re going to have to expand our staff and our capabilities in order to pull this off.

We aren’t complaining. We are passionate about this, but we need your help to create the paper you want and deserve.

Here’s How You Can Help

Our Press Forward 2016 campaign has an overall goal of $100,000. There are a variety of different ways you can pitch in to help us hit that target:

Readers

We’ve created a campaign page at gofundme.com/pressforward2016. Please contribute any amount you feel comfortable donating. Deadline: Friday, May 20. Or you can mail us a check anytime! Address it to: Knoxville Mercury, 706 Walnut St., Suite 404, Knoxville, TN 37902.

Advertisers

Been thinking about taking out an ad? Now’s the time to do it. We have lots of different options depending on your goals. Want to support a local nonprofit or charitable institution with marketing? We can match your donation. Need to tell a story? We can create a campaign for you. Contact sales@knoxmercury.com or 865-313-2048.

Charitable Donors

If you’re interested in supporting the only nonprofit solely devoted to Knoxville’s history, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Knoxville History Project. It can, in turn, help support the Mercury. Go to knoxmercury.com/KHP to make an online donation, or contact Jack Neely at jack@knoxhistoryproject.org.

Plus!
If you donate, you’ll get an instant invitation to our Founder’s Party at Historic Westwood on June 24—if you donate $1,000+, you’ll get some special VIP perks. There will be food trucks, libations, and lots of interesting people you’ll want to meet!

Our Goal:

Continue to Provide the Most In-Depth and Discerning Coverage of the Knoxville Area

This is what makes the Knoxville Mercury unique. It’s what we know how to do. And you’re not going to find it elsewhere on a weekly basis.

If you appreciate anything the Knoxville Mercury has published this past year, or if you feel that having an independent voice in Knoxville’s media landscape is important, now is the time to show your support.

Just like public institutions NPR or PBS, we will need to make this request of you each year. It’s a necessary step in order to ensure our sustainability as a business and as an effort to make Knoxville a better place to live.

Thank you for reading our plea, and thank you for anything you can do to support the Knoxville Mercury and the Knoxville History Project.

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Coury Turczyn

Editor Coury Turczyn guided Knoxville's alt weekly, Metro Pulse, through two eras, first as managing editor (and later executive editor) from 1992 to 2000, then as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2014. He's also worked as a Web editor at CNET, the erstwhile G4 cable network, and HGTV.

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