Should the drive not meet its goal, Crosscut could conceivably cease publication in the next couple of weeks, according to a couple of sources, although Brewster, both in a written statement and a subsequent conversation with me, emphasized that he does not foresee that happening.
According to word going around Seattle P-I circles, the topic of Crosscut’s financial health came up at last night’s closed door meeting of P-I staffers hosted by their union, the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild. One of the attendees told other attendees that someone close to the Crosscut board had said that should Crosscut not reach its goal by the mid-week, the publication might be forced to shut down. Chuck Taylor, the former editor of Crosscut, was also in attendance at the meeting, and reportedly confirmed that the online publication was in danger of shutting its doors if the fundraising target was not met.
Also this morning, I was told about further information leaking from those close to Crosscut that the site’s ability to continue operating is at least somewhat in question.
I called Brewster this morning to discuss Crosscut’s financial situation and he expressed surprise that there was talk of Crosscut shutting down.
Brewster emphasized that he expects Crosscut to continue publication for the indefinite future: “Personally, I think we’ll meet our fundraising goal,” he explained. Moreover, he added that even if the current drive did not reach its goal, the publication has plans in the works to tap additional sources of revenue, from both a membership subscription drive and from outreach to “new, generous individuals.”
While Brewster obviously has a vested interest in making things out to be on track at his venture, I nonetheless came away from the conversation convinced he does intend to battle to keep Crosscut going during what he calls the current era of “severance capitalism.”
Here is the relevant chunk of the statement Brewster e-mailed to me prior to our conversation (I had also asked him about rumors of a possible partnership with one of the post-P-I ventures):
Things are going according to plan. We always knew we’d need to recapitalize after CC went nonprofit. Site has been operating on a shoestring since decision to go nonprofit was made. Expect that to continue until we have funding to expand with confidence. Progress on that front is good, even though we’ve yet to receive IRS tax exempt status important to foundations. Individual gifts to CC are now tax exempt. People recognize need to support community-based journalism especially now. All players are searching for sustainable business model, CC included.
As for the current drive, it's one of several and it's going well, with more than half the goal reached. Crosscut Public Media, the name of the new nonprofit entity publishing CC, began operations on Jan 1, so it's a new board; I'm the only carryover from the original entity, Crosscut LLC, which has contributed all CC assets to the nonprofit. New board is just now turning to fundraising, with public membership drive the next step after the current campaign among our core donors. We're operating in a complex environment, with the economy plunging and many new journalistic possibilities, including nonprofit ones, in the wake of the P-I closure. We're considering various ways that we can be most effective, including partnerships and some shifting of mission, depending on how the fundraising goes. Closing down is the last thing I would favor. Meanwhile, Crosscut continues growing (with page views up 60% in last 6 months), and I think it is needed more than ever.
As for the possible talks with post-P-I groups, there are none I'm aware of. But we do have a good-neighbor policy, very open to partnerships, content sharing, and other joint services, and have some ongoing talks with other media companies, not related to P-I, about possibilities. I foresee a year with lots of experiments, encouraged by "severance capitalism," and hope that we can be helpful in providing some "landscape architecture" to sort out roles and synergies in this environment. We're also working on a "fellowship" program to provide a landing place for displaced journalists with particularly deep expertise; and I hope we can get funding for this.