Advocate: Progress, Transparency, and a Big Thanks!

These last several months, we at The Advocate started asking the community for donations, and heightened our editorial standards in ways our readers are already offering positive feedback about. We have also moved beyond our pages, engaging as neighbors with our readers, building events diverse as storytelling nights and community forums, to a bar crawl. We believe the primary goal of an alt-weekly is to thoughtfully promote community togetherness, and we strive for that in our every action. Stabilizing our organization, and seeking support for increasingly higher quality journalism and public engagement is a long-term proposition.

We want to thank some donors here, and we also want to clear the air about our finances because we’ve asked the community for its support. We recognize that our financials continue to be a matter of public discussion, to put it lightly. Below, we detail the paper’s debt in clear terms, as well as our budget, and future challenges. Given the role community donation has started to play, we intend for this transparency to be ongoing, with frequent updates. 

Beyond our last several months new leaf at the paper, this is about our love for the community, and recognition that we are all in this, together, even if we sometimes fight over issues of the day, and such. We at The Advocate believe this is everyone’s paper, and is at core a public trust.

We conducted our first public fundraiser only three months ago, the Corvallis Dream Launch. Since then, individual donor giving has paid over 10 percent of our monthly expenses. We’ve received an average of $1,081 a month in individual giving over the last three months, totaling $3,243.

We also asked local businesses to help, and they have stepped in with $8,387 in pledges to help the paper get through the tough summer months. Being in a university town, sales decline during this part of the year. This was a tough ask, and we are stunned by the level of support.

Taken together, individual donors and businesses have given and pledged $11,630. The season began with an anticipated $16,500 shortfall, and that is now reduced to $4,870.

Cutting to the chase, it appears you, our donors, are actually saving The Advocate from extinction—and we have no idea where to begin with how humbling that is. Saying thank you is obvious, but it doesn’t really convey how touched and grateful we are—clearly, we could not be here without you. Alt-weeklies are an increasingly rare breed, and the fact that we still exist in a town of this size is nothing short of miraculous. You are allowing this miracle to happen.

Last year at this time, the paper owed $21,487 to prior freelancers and vendors, and it currently has debt of $16,092, a reduction of $5,395, for the year. Some of the reduction comes from forgiven debt. 

In the last three months, we’ve averaged $332 in monthly debt repayment. We have prioritized creditors based on willingness to accept settlements in full and/or payment plans.

There is one small claims judgment against the paper in the amount of $2,501. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit while receiving $50 monthly payments, at which point the paper shifted its repayment resources to other prior freelancers and contractors. The judgment is one year old, and increases 10 percent annually due to interest. The paper has confidential repayment agreements with two creditors, and is making timely payments on both.

We added no new debt the last three quarters of 2015, or during any of 2016, and managed to reduce debt 20 percent over that period. In early 2017, the Gazette Times ran a front page story about our finances, after which many advertisers canceled their contracts with us. This reduced our income by about $2,500 monthly, or $27,500 for the year. We incurred another $2,328 in debt over 2017 as a result. Some of these advertisers returned this year.

For 2018, all staff, freelancers, contractors and vendors have been paid in a timely fashion. Budget cuts and successful fundraising have made both that and our debt reduction possible. 

Personnel is generally the largest expense at a newspaper, and The Advocate is no exception. For the last three months, staff and freelancer compensation has averaged $5,968 monthly, totaling $17,906 over all three months. Those numbers include the debt repayment numbers from above. 

Printing averaged $2,665 a month, totaling $7,995 for the three month period.  All other costs combined only totaled $4,438 for the three month period, while total revenue amounted to $28,409 from advertisers and $3,243 from individual donors. Retained earnings of $1,313 will divide among taxes, and withheld earnings for later agreed payments, primarily labor.

Our most immediate challenge is simply to survive our projected summer shortfall, and there will probably be at least one or two more fundraisers towards that end. We are also reexamining all of our processes for quality and cost saving opportunities. Come Fall, our focus will continue to shift towards a more financially sustainable organization, and redoubling our efforts in the pursuit of deeper journalism. 

Much of the long-term effort will center on closer donor and community relationships, the goal of which is to more tightly weave ourselves into the tapestry that is our town, reflecting the knowledge gained in news gathering that brings our community together. We believe there is such implicit value to this, and that support will arise for it—at least, that’s our hope.

A very small number of alt weeklies have started seeking sponsorship and grants to increase their news gathering efforts, and while their experiences have been mixed so far, we are investigating the possibilities.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be offering more reporting on our finances as the need arises, and envision that over time the reports will be regularized to either monthly or quarterly, depending on donor and community feedback. We have been and always will be a newspaper dedicated to our neighbors, and take the responsibility that comes along with having a publication seriously.

All of us at The Advocate love this little slice of the Willamette Valley, and we hope to strive and learn and grow along with you, our neighbors.

Please email us with questions and comments:
You can donate on our support page, or mail donations to:
The Corvallis Advocate
PO Box 2700
Corvallis, OR 97339