|Number 82||August 18, 2000|
This special edition of Nygaard Notes is an unprecedented appeal for funds. I'm asking readers to make an annual donation, kind of like a subscription. This is voluntary. NO ONE WILL STOP GETTING NYGAARD NOTES IF THEY CHOOSE NOT TO MAKE A DONATION.
This special issue of Nygaard Notes is made up of several parts. First there is the short and to-the-point appeal. Then I share some thoughts about the whole idea of donating, and subscribing, and contributing, and media, and so on, and how it relates to Nygaard Notes. Next I suggest how you might set your donation amount. Finally, I lay out some good things that might happen if I get enough money that I can quit my day jobs (or at least cut back the number of hours I have to spend at them!)
If you already know you want to donate (and a number of you have said that you do), and you already know how much, you may want to just read the short part in the beginning and skip the rest.
It is almost two years since I started publishing Nygaard Notes. The original list of subscribers included about two dozen people, as I recall. Now we're up to about 25 times that number, and new people keep subscribing all the time. I don't have any "goal" for readership, but it could multiply by 25 times again. Who knows? Whatever happens will start with you.
I want people to read Nygaard Notes, so I will not require that people send me money to subscribe. But, while it is not necessary for each individual to donate to Nygaard Notes, it IS necessary that many of you do. If I am not able to raise several thousand dollars with this appeal, the long-term survival of the Notes is somewhat in question. Details follow below.
Like the public radio pledge week, I imagine this special edition will be annoying to some people. I apologize. I don't see any way around it. Next week we're back to "normal." Thanks for whatever you can do,
I would like YOU, as a reader of Nygaard Notes, to consider donating an annual amount for your subscription. This is voluntary, meaning that no one will be taken off of the Nygaard Notes list for not donating. I think of Nygaard Notes as a community resource, and one may think of this letter as the equivalent of a non-profit radio station's "pledge drive."
As a point of reference, I can state that if every one of the current subscribers pledged just TEN dollars per year, that would make up well more than half of my income. Now, I don't expect every subscriber to pledge, but I do expect some readers to pledge more than $10. Maybe some will pledge $50, or $100, or....who knows?
The point is that donations in any amount will be accepted. I suggest that the basic donation might be around $25/year. To help you calculate what is fair for you, I give some ideas of how to think about it in Section 4: "How Much To Donate?" Whatever you decide, make your check payable to "Jeff Nygaard" and send it to:
Donations are not tax-deductible, I'm sorry to say. I don't even know how to go about this, and this is an example of how my lack of time/money has impeded my ability to develop this project.
As I was writing up this special edition of Nygaard Notes, I received word that the Twin Cities biweekly newspaper SIREN has gone out of business after just 10 months. Money was the main problem, the lack of which made all of its other problems, significant enough on their own, that much more difficult to overcome. It's a loss to the Twin Cities. (And I don't say that just because they had approached me about writing a regular column on media starting this fall.) With all its ups and downs over the past few months, Siren showed reason to hope that they would develop into a valuable part of the Twin Cities journalistic scene. Part of what they offered seemed to be a simple commitment to good, solid journalism. Sadly, this is not easy to find in these parts. The lack of good journalism around here is part of the motivation for Nygaard Notes.
This is the second "alternative" newspaper I have been involved with in the past two years that has gone out of business. The Toaster met its demise last year, before the first issue hit the stands, lack of money also being the primary issue. These two failures bring into stark relief some of the larger issues that face journalism and journalists here in Y2K.
Many years ago, in a stockholders' meeting at giant breakfast cereal manufacturer General Mills, a stockholder posed a question about a new product line that might be more "healthy" and prefaced his question with the phrase, "Since General Mills is in the business of making food, why don't we..." The CEO, to whom the question was posed, responded that, "General Mills is not in the business of making food. We are in the business of making money." His (refreshingly honest) point was that health has nothing to do with product development, at General Mills or any other corporation; profitability rules the day.
So it is in media. Producing a newspaper has little to do with informing the public. What it's all about is producing large numbers of readers to sell to advertisers. This reality is borne out in all media, all the time. Emmy-award winning TV shows are canceled, serious movies are bumped by things like Terminator IV, and promising alternative papers bite the dust for lack of funds. I was at a meeting just last week in which the general manager of a local TV station stated, in talking about their local news show, "We are a commercial TV station. We have to bring in viewers to get the advertising to pay the high costs of doing local news." She was not implying that viewers would be "brought in" by good journalism, as she made clear in her answer to a later question about why TV news is so focused on gore and crime: "We need to lead with a ‘grabber.' It may not be good journalism, but we need to keep our ratings up." Any honest journalist will tell you that this is how it works.
This is not how it works at Nygaard Notes. I am not looking to reach a "mass market." If I could get 1,000 people to send me $10 per year, I would have it made. If I get more than that – and I hope to get many more than that – then I either reduce the suggested subscription rate, spend the extra money on paying for project-related expenses, or in some other way use the power that comes with this readership to benefit the community. If you do not need to make ever more money, you are free to act on principle, and to be truly accountable to your community. This is what I strive for, and if you think this is worth something, then you should send some money to support it. If not, keep reading Nygaard Notes for free, whatever your reasons are. Maybe later you'll find it valuable enough to support with your hard-earned dollars.
There are at least three different ways to think about this.
The traditional way is "How much is each copy worth to me?" I don't care for this method, since it implies that the project is some sort of commodity for sale like a box of corn flakes, but it is one way to think about it. If this is your choice, here are some numbers: Every year I will send out a minimum of 44 issues, and it will likely be closer to 48 or 50. I take a week off here and there, and sometimes a little more. I never know. Let's use 44 as the minimum. If each issue is worth a dollar to you, then send me $44. Fifty cents each? Then it's $22. If you would be willing to shell out a quarter for each issue, then a check for $11 is in order. You get the idea.
A second way to think about this is to relate your contribution to your own income or wealth. Are you willing to devote one or two hour's worth of your wages each year to supporting Nygaard Notes? Then send me that amount. If you make minimum wage, I am more than happy to accept $5.15 or $10.30 for your annual subscription donation. If you make closer to the average household income, then you would make an annual contribution of something like $18 to $36. Using this yardstick, the average American physician would send me $90 to $180 per year. You get this idea, too, I'm sure. In a related way, you could send one-tenth of 1% of your net worth. For the average household, this would be $37.
Some of you may want to set your own arbitrary annual amount and send that along. Fine. Not everybody likes to formalize things like I do. The point is that I will record whatever you send and then I will contact you next year at this time and ask you to renew your "subscription."
Again, this is totally voluntary. No one will stop getting Nygaard Notes for lack of a donation.
Some people have already sent me unsolicited donations. Martha sent me $25. Jan sent $50. Jean-Luc sent $100. And, of course, "Anonymous" sent me $500 last month for a new computer. So some of you may want to skip the calculations and just send me a chunk of money just because you want to support the project. And if you want to earmark the money in some way, or donate something other than money, go to the Nygaard Notes website and check out the section on the front page entitled "Help Nygaard Notes."
First and foremost, Nygaard Notes will be better. Not that I think it's bad now, and I get lots of feedback indicating that people find it useful and interesting as it is. What will be better is that I will have more time to do some of the things that I can't do now. Your contribution will allow me to do more research, to plan my subject areas better, to maintain the Nygaard Notes website better, and to touch on some issues that I haven't even gotten to yet.
Perhaps the single biggest improvement would be that I would have more time for research. Most of my research up to now has been conducted on-line, and there is a reason for that. Much of my work is done early in the morning or in the evenings, and people are not in their offices then. If I had to "work" less, I could be home to do more telephone interviews, or even have time to attend news conferences and other events. This would add to the Notes.
Regular readers know that I am always whining about not having enough room to fit things in. This is partly just because I'm a whiner, but the problem is made worse by my lack of time. Some of the issues of the Notes are no more than the result of me commenting on whatever is in front of my face as the deadline approaches. A great example is the current look I am taking at "racial profiling" in Minnesota. Although there's much to say about the contrast between what I see on the street and what I see in the papers, I think it would be interesting to put the phenomenon into historical context. This might involve looking at racial profiling as an elite backlash against the gains of the Civil Rights era, and comparing it to the Reconstruction-era Black Codes that were a backlash against the civil rights movement of that era. But this sort of historical research is time-consuming, so I can't do this sort of thing (very often) under the current arrangement.
I have begun work on a special, ongoing feature focused on our junior Minnesota Senator, Rod Grams, but I have not introduced it yet as I fear that I don't have the time to maintain it properly.
There are a number of support functions that I do poorly for lack of time. My bookkeeping, the exploration of tax-exempt status, the constituting of an advisory board, maintaining the website, promoting the Notes and connecting with other progressive media and other activists, and so on and so forth. Your contribution would help me find the time to run this project better in all of these ways.
The second thing that might happen as a result of your donations is that I could begin to pursue and/or develop some related projects in addition to the Notes. People have suggested that interested Notes readers may want to get together periodically for discussion, action, resource-sharing, or whatever. There is talk of a radio component to Nygaard Notes, and I have spoken with friends about the idea of initiating a radio collective aimed at having a daily "talk show" somewhere in the Twin Cities. Another suggestion is a Nygaard Notes book section, where Notes readers can pass on reviews of the books they are reading or have read that might be of interest to other Notes readers. That'd be easy to do if I had the time; one reader has already submitted a list of books!
In the course of researching the Notes, I run across many, many obscure sources of excellent information. I have thought of offering an "information subscription," where Nygaard Notes readers can tell me their areas of interest and I could forward to them interesting and relevant documents that I unearth in my meanderings. Again, lack of time prevents me from initiating this.
If I really receive a lot of money, maybe I could hire someone to work with me part-time. That would open up a whole realm of possibilities.
And I have not even mentioned the prospect of lengthy Caribbean vacations for the Editor-in-Chief!
To summarize, there are three things that are likely to happen as a result of Nygaard Notes readers making annual donations. 1) Nygaard Notes will continue to exist as a weekly publication; 2) Nygaard Notes will be even better than it is now, and 3) Some new projects will be initiated and carried out.