By Emilie Lutostanski • Director, Local News Resource Center
Anchorage Daily News, independently owned by the Binkley Co., was the first participant in the COVID-19 Local News Fund to reach $30,000. As of Tuesday, April 21, 2020, the media organization had crowdsourced $38,000 from more than 360 donors to be used for its ongoing community and coronavirus coverage.
The COVID-19 Local News Fund is a program administered by the Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Local Media Association. The purpose of the program is to increase coverage of COVID-19 issues in local communities.
Anchorage Daily News kicked off its campaign April 10, and with a cadence of appeals across print and digital, Editor David Hulen has helped rally hundreds of individual donors to support their local Alaska paper. He shared some insight about why and how the COVID-19 Local News Fund program at Anchorage Daily News has seen early success.
Why was it important for you and your organization to start a campaign program to raise funds for your COVID-19 coverage?
It’s been a tough couple of months. The emergency and resulting economic downturn hit Alaska just like it hit the rest of the country. Our advertising and event revenue took serious hits starting in early March. This was happening at a time when we were seeing big surges in readership for our coverage. We needed to find additional revenue to help shore things up so we can keep serving the community.
At the end of March, I made a direct subscription appeal to readers with a column and an email that described how we were mobilizing but also talked about our situation. We saw a significant bump in subscriptions, and that direct appeal helped. Several readers asked if there was a way for them to contribute directly in addition to subscriptions. That got us thinking. We saw what the Advocate/Times-Picayune [in Louisiana] had done recently with a successful direct appeal to readers and started exploring whether that made sense for us. Then we saw what the Local Media Association was doing with the new fund and decided that approach made sense for us and would potentially be a good way to very quickly spin up a campaign.
This is new for us. It’s the first time we’ve ever asked readers directly for support in this way, so we approached it with some caution. Our relationship with readers and the community is based on trust and this is a big ask. We didn’t want to screw it up or do anything that would undermine that relationship.
You kicked off with an inspiring email appeal. Can you share the results and plans for your promotional and marketing strategy so far?
Our readers have contributed more than $36,000 in a little over a week (more than 350 individual contributions).
Once our LMA page was created, we did a small proof-of-concept test: I explained what we were doing on my own personal Twitter feed with a link to our Local News Fund page. That was retweeted the next day on the main ADN feed. I also directly emailed the readers who’d asked about donating. We raised $2,000 in a day or two, so we knew at that point it had potential.
Next, we did an email blast from me to a relatively big list with the subject line “From the editor: A new way to support our coronavirus reporting.” The message was basically “We’re here for you, here’s what’s happening with our business, and if you’re able to help us, here’s how.” It was heartfelt. We applied some lessons from the first subscription email, including not putting the “Donate” button at the end of the email. (We also posted a version of that message as a column online and in print a couple days later, but it started as an email.)
Reader response was instant.
We followed that with a second, somewhat modified email a few days later. We also put a modest ad on the right rail of our homepage.
That’s been the extent of our promotion/marketing at this point.
How has the community responded? Have you had any powerful feedback comments from donors?
The community response has been incredible. Readers have been generous at a time when a lot of households and businesses are struggling. The words of encouragement from donors have been simply amazing. Reader after reader has taken the time to say publicly what our organization, our people and our coverage means to them and the community. It’s been touching, humbling and inspiring for all of us. It’s been fuel for our newsroom.
(A bonus has been that I’ve heard directly from a lot of readers directly after the emails with feedback, ideas, advice, criticism — all welcome.)
Can you give us an idea of how you may use the funds?
We said from the outset that all money raised would go directly to the newsroom to support our continuing coronavirus coverage. We haven’t yet determined specifically how the funds will be used.
What advice would you give to a publisher considering launching their own fundraising campaign?
Think it through, but don’t be afraid to ask your readers for help and do it in a heartfelt, transparent way.