You’ll have to forgive us the pun, but we need your attention: It’s time for our annual reader fundraising campaign to keep the Knoxville Mercury going. So, for us, this existential question is immediately relevant: Do you care enough about the services this paper provides to actually pay for them?
A generation or two ago, we wouldn’t have had to ask—one could make a viable business out of selling enough print ads to literally give away tens of thousands of papers and their stories. An entire staff could be hired purely through ad revenue, and they could make a decent living. Those days are fading fast. There are thousands of articles about the state of newspaper publishing in the digital age, offering a myriad of theories about how the industry can rescue itself, but the short answer is: find other sources of revenue to augment traditional ad sales.
When we started the Mercury two years ago, this inevitable fact was definitely on our minds. That’s why we formulated a most unusual ownership structure: a weekly paper governed by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Knoxville History Project, directed by Jack Neely. As part of its educational mission to research and promote the history of Knoxville, the KHP buys a full-page ad in each issue to promote local historical events and projects and to relate historical stories about Knoxville. It raises money for that ad contract through tax-deductible donations, which you can make though its website at: knoxvillehistoryproject.org/donate.
But a vitally important source of funding for our effort has always been readers who want to directly support the paper because they find value in it.
As daily papers become ever more centralized by national ownership, we have aimed to be local first and always. Although our staff is very small and our budget is smaller, I believe we’ve delivered on a lot of the goals we set for ourselves when we launched the Mercury’s start-up campaign in December 2014. We promised to deliver a paper devoted to in-depth reporting, incisive arts and entertainment writing, the most comprehensive calendar of events in town, and a local crossword puzzle. Our efforts have been honored with two years’ worth of first-place awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, and design by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists—all in competition with the daily paper. (Here are the awards for work published in 2015 and 2016.)
We’re often told we’re far too polite when it comes to asking for help. As writers, artists, and editors, fundraising is not something we were used to doing—but this is a new era for local journalism and we must make a stronger effort. To truly survive, papers like the Mercury must become community efforts, not unlike public television or radio, which require the support of listeners and viewers. To some, that just doesn’t make sense since newspapers have historically been about making a profit for their owners. In our case, we just want to be able to put out unique stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told. And we’d like to eventually make a living doing it that doesn’t require a constant sense of financial anxiety, which we’re still working on.
So, if you’ve ever felt informed by our news features, brought closer to an important issue by our cover stories, met new personalities in our profiles, learned about a cool new band or restaurant in our A&E section, felt personally engaged by our columnists, or just used our calendar to find out what’s going on this weekend, consider whether the Mercury is worth your financial support.
If so, you can find options for donating on a one-time or monthly here:
For tax-deductible donations, you will be redirected to the Knoxville History Project, an educational 501(c)(3) whose mission is to research and promote the history of Knoxville. It’s also our governing body, and we help fulfill its mission with our coverage of Knoxville history and culture.
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