Here in the opening half of Reason's annual Webathon, in which we ask you, dear readers and listeners and viewers, to consider making a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit foundation that makes all of our work possible (and does other great stuff besides), I thought it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane and appreciate together how far you've helped us come since our first modest little cup-rattle back in 2008. But first….
How far have we come in 12 years? Well, see that orange box in the upper right of this page, with its 355 donors and $61,000 in donations after 48 hours? That's already more Webathon loot than we raised in each of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. But wait, there's more!
In that first year, our bell-ringing produced a grand total of $13,000. On this very day in 2020, by contrast, we are announcing a special challenge grant of nearly double that!
That's right, there is a married couple dear to our hearts, with a last name bearing a familial resemblance to my own, who today are announcing a $25,000 challenge grant. That means: If you donate $10, we magically get $20. If you stroke us a check for $24,999, then (beep-boop, beep-boop)…damn near 50 large! Lookit all that math!
This money does something far more important even than nurturing Peter Suderman's cocktail habit, Katherine Mangu-Ward's pot brownie recipes, or granting C.J. Ciaramella extra license to write about Dungeons & Dragons. This allows …(inhales deeply)…Reason to stay Reason.
Here's what I mean by that. On a purely functional level, your generosity—1,300 of you gave us $370,000 during our Webathon last year!—allows us to stay in business, which is no small thing in the world of opinion magazines. We no longer count among our publishing brethren The Weekly Standard (shuttered in 2018), Governing (2019), or, uh, the International Socialist Review (2019). Take that, commies!
But just as importantly, having a diversity and depth of funding sources make us almost unnaturally resilient and consistent over time. No head-snapping editorial zig-zags for us.
Consider this: Just 16 days ago on The Reason Roundtable podcast, the magazine's editors in chief of the past two decades spent some quality time talking about the newest book from a Reason editor in chief from the decade before that. That's 30 years of a magazine's leadership happily exchanging ideas based on the same broad frames of reference.
Now let's compare that continuity to the tumult at, say, The New Republic, the progressive warhorse that when we began doing these Webathons was still run by lefty-tweaking hawk Marty Peretz and edited by Franklin Foer. Peretz replaced Foer with Richard Just in 2010, then sold the magazine in 2012 to babyfaced Facebook billionaire Chris Hughes, who re-hired Foer, then so quickly purged the mag of its contrarian past that Peretz soon lamented in The Wall Street Journal that "I don't recognize the magazine I used to own." By the end of 2014 there were so many editorial changes and publishing pivots and staff revolts that I headlined one Webathon post that year, "Donate to Reason! Because Jesus Christ, We Sure Aren't The New Republic!" The Hughes era ended in 2016, and TNR is now on its seventh editor change over a span that Reason has had all of two.
I do not for one moment mean to pick on our journalistic frenemies, but rather to use their turmoil as an object lesson in the advantages of our funding model, and its dependence especially on you. As I wrote back when TNR staffers were still hi-fiving about all the new money, and media columnists were gushing over the exciting fate of the onetime "in-flight magazine of Air Force One," I made this point about publications in our category:
Political magazines, which as a rule do not cover expenses through subscriptions and advertising, have two basic ownership models: Get an ideologically and/or culturally sympatico rich person (or "vanity mogul," in Jack Shafer's memorable phrasing) to subsidize the losses, or just organize as a nonprofit (Reason chose the latter road decades ago).
There are plusses and minuses to both–as Shafer points out, "Hughes should be able to sustain the magazine's annual losses—which Anne Peretz, the ex-wife of former owner Martin Peretz put at $3 million a year—for a couple of hundred years after his death"—but one aspect I certainly enjoy about the Reason way is that it is literally impossible for a single person (let alone a single person with deep political connections to the sitting U.S. president) to impose his or her will on the editorial decisions of a normally configured nonprofit publication. The basic editorial thrust is therefore much more resilient and consistent in the long term, much less subject to the temporal whims and temper tantrums of a lone deep-pocketed journalistic novice.
Your donations, and the sheer number of you donating, amounts to force protection against this editorial enterprise suddenly rendering itself unrecognizable based on the direction of the wind—of anybody's wind.
Do you derive value and perhaps even occasional pleasure at having a consistent (if consistently weird) libertarian voice working in the fields of journalism and commentary, while constantly expanding its reach and impact? Do you enjoy doubling the impact of your dollar? If so, please consider DONATING TO REASON RIGHT THE HELL NOW!
UPDATE: You krazy kids met that $25,000 match in just four hours! Wow, thank you! Say, that gives me an idea….Maybe someone ELSE wants to make a challenge grant. If you are ready to double the donating pleasure of this terrific community of individualists, please send an email to Britt.firstname.lastname@example.org. Gracias!